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Birmingham Bowl Preview and Prediction: South Florida vs. South Carolina

Quinton Flowers

Quinton Flowers

The post-Willie Taggart era at South Florida and the first bowl game for Will Muschamp at South Carolina will take place at the same venue – Birmingham’s historic Legion Field.

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The Bulls come in 10-2 and will look to add to their school record for victories and finish ranked in the final polls for the first time ever. South Carolina on the other hand, will be looking to notch a winning season after finishing just 3-9 a year ago. The two teams will meet in the Birmingham Bowl.

Though they were noticeably absent during last bowl season, the Gamecocks have won four straight bowls, the most recent victory coming against Miami in the 2014 Independence Bowl. The last loss for South Carolina in a bowl game came in the Chick-fil-A Bowl to Florida State following the 2010 season. That also was the last season that USF won a bowl when it beat another team from the Palmetto State – Clemson – in the Meineke Car Care Bowl.

Birmingham Bowl: South Florida vs. South Carolina

Kickoff: Thursday, Dec. 29 at 2 p.m. ET

Where: Legion Field (Brimingham, Ala.)

TV Channel: ESPN

Spread: South Florida – 10.5

Three Things to Watch For

1. Quarterback Play

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Priority No. 1 for the South Carolina defense will be slowing down USF quarterback and the American Athletic Conference’s Player of the Year, Quinton Flowers. With nearly 4,000 yards of total offense and 37 total touchdowns, Flowers can shred defenses with his arm or his legs. South Carolina did a decent job containing dual-threat signal-callers like Texas A&M’s Trevor Knight and Tennessee’s Joshua Dobbs, but was decimated by Clemson’s Deshaun Watson in its last game.

On the other side of the ball, freshman Jake Bentley hasn’t exactly set the world on fire, but he has been an upgrade from Perry Orth and Brandon McIlwain. Since Bentley was inserted into the lineup, the Gamecocks are 4-2. Bentley will be facing a South Florida team that ranks 118th against the pass.

2. Turnovers

Both the Bulls and Gamecocks rank in the top 30 nationally when it comes to turnover margin, making ball security a real issue in the Birmingham Bowl. South Carolina ranks 10th nationally at plus-10 for the season and that trend will need to continue for it to pull the upset. The Bulls are plus-6 for the season, but are minus-2 in their two losses.

3. Darius English

In what will be his final game at South Carolina, English could be a huge difference maker. At 6-foot-6 and 245 pounds, the senior defensive end is a very good athlete and leads the team with nine sacks to go along with two forced fumbles.

Against an extremely athletic quarterback like Flowers, South Carolina could benefit from English’s speed and length on the edge. English will be tasked not only with getting to Flowers, but also with keeping the quarterback as well as talented tailback Marlon Mack from breaking outside contain.

Final Analysis

With Willie Taggart off to Oregon and T.J. Weist the interim head coach, there are questions as to how prepared South Florida will be. With a ranked finish and 11-win season on the line however, motivation shouldn’t be an issue. Though it doubled its win total from last season, South Carolina went just 6-6 in arguably the worst Power Five division – the SEC East.

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The Gamecocks are opportunistic defensively, but pose one of the nation’s worst offenses. South Carolina will need to create turnovers and short fields to have a chance. If that doesn’t happen, it’s unlikely the Gamecocks can score enough points to keep up with a USF attack that ranks in the top 10 nationally in both total and scoring offense.

Prediction: South Florida 34, South Carolina 20

— Written by Mike Ferguson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and the editor of The Daily Nole. Like The Daily Nole on Facebook and follow Mike on Twitter @MikeWFerguson.