South Carolina would be advised not to get into a Mayo Bowl shootout with North Carolina. Three of North Carolina’s wins were in 59-39, 45-42 and 55-52 games. Meanwhile, the Gamecocks allowed just 14.2 points in their six victories.
UNC lost four of their last five bowl games, while South Carolina is making its first bowl appearance since 2018.
This is just the fourth meeting between the border teams in the last 14 years. North Carolina won the last time in 2019 as a 12½-point underdog.
The Tar Heels were one of the biggest disappointments during the 2021 season. UNC came in as the favorite to win the ACC Coastal Division and had an expected win total of 10. North Carolina finished fifth in the division. Conversely, South Carolina made it to a bowl game after entering the season with just a 3½ expected win total.
Game: North Carolina (6-6) vs. South Carolina (6-6)
Location: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, NC
Day/Time: Thursday, December 30, 11:30 a.m. ET
Downs emerged as an elite receiver for North Carolina Tar Heels
It would be a challenging assignment finding a skill position player who has made more strides than North Carolina receiver Josh Downs.
With two 1,000-yard rushers who would each be selected in the 2021 NFL draft as well as veteran receivers Dyam Brown and Dazz Newsome, who were also draftees, Downs was a bit of an afterthought a season ago.
Downs played in 10 games during the 2020 season and ended up with just 119 yards on seven catches. Most of those yards came in the bowl game against Texas A&M.
Downs topped his 2020 totals in the Tar Heels’ season-opening loss to Virginia Tech, finishing with at least 117 receiving yards in five different games. It is interesting to note that North Carolina is just 2-3 in those games and 4-3 when he is held under 100 yards.
With eight catches in each of his last three games, Downs ended the regular season at 98 receptions (1273 yards). He can become the first ACC player with at least 100 catches since Syracuse’s Steve Ishmael had 105 in 2017.
Even with Downs emerging into a reliable go-to receiver, North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell had a bit of a disappointing season. After completing 68% of his passes while passing (3586 yards, 30 TD’s) a season ago, the numbers dipped to 62.7%, (2851 yards, 23 TD’s, nine interceptions) as a junior. Howell had take a much larger role in the running game with 826 yards and 11 touchdowns.
The total set by the college football odds has gone under in four of North Carolina’s last five games against SEC opponents.
Third-leading rusher D.J. Jones missed the last game. Receiver Emery Simmons has missed the last five games as he decided to transfer, landing at Indiana. Defensively, nine of UNC’s top 10 tacklers have played in all 12 games.
— Indiana Football (@IndianaFootball) December 15, 2021
Three Players to Watch
Running back Ty Chandler had rushed for 1063 yards and 13 touchdowns. Downs has 98 catches for 1273 yards and eight touchdowns. Howell has thrown for 2851 yards with those 23 TD’s and nine picks. He has also rushed for 826 yards and 11 TDs.
Rushing defense will be a key for South Carolina Gamecocks
What a difference a year can make, especially when it comes to playing sound, fundamental defensive football.
South Carolina allowed five opponents to run for more than 200 yards a season ago, including four times during a season-ending six-game losing streak.
The Gamecocks went from allowing 451.5 yards a game in 2020 to 357.5 in ’21. Those numbers put South Carolina in the middle of the SEC. Taking a deeper dive, the Gamecocks flexed muscle in their six wins, allowing an average of 286 yards (111.8 rushing) per game.
If there is a concern, South Carolina did give up at least 247 rushing yards four times and they all happened in the fina; seven games of the season.
North Carolina won’t shy about testing the South Carolina rushing defense, and it should be noted that when the teams played in 2019, North Carolina ran for 238 yards.
Those who bet online might be interested to know that South Carolina is 0-6 in its last six games against ACC teams.
Defensive back Jaylin Dickerson (ankle) and offensive lineman Dylan Wonnum are questionable. Receivers Jalen Brooks and Rico Powers, tight end Keveon Mullins, defensive lineman Rodricus, linebacker Sherrod Greene are out.
Three Players to Watch
Defensive back Jaylan Foster leads South Carolina with 91 tackles, five for loss. Edge rusher Kingsley Enagbare had seven tackles for loss with 4.5 sacks. Receiver Josh Vann had 43 catches for 679 yards with five touchdowns.
Betting on the Game
North Carolina is -6 in turnover margin in its six losses but +7 in the six wins.
North Carolina 4-1 in its last five games when listed by the Las Vegas odds as the favorite. South Carolina has lost 11 of its last 13 games when listed as the underdog.
South Carolina ranks last in the SEC in red-zone offense with only 27 scores (19 touchdowns) in 37 in-close trips.
Both the Tar Heels and Gamecocks have covered in only two of its last seven games.
North Carolina has only covered in two of its last eight games when favored by more than seven points.