Like many teams in the Independence Bowl, Miami and South Carolina don’t arrive in Shreveport with an abundance of enthusiasm.
Reaching this bowl game, more often than not, is the final stop in a season that didn’t go entirely as planned.
The Gamecocks and Hurricanes are in that position as they try to salvage one last bit of good news — not to mention a winning record — out of a lost season.
South Carolina started the season in the preseason top 10, but the Gamecocks would never look any better than that, losing 52-28 to Texas A&M in the opener. For the first time of Steve Spurrier’s tenure in South Carolina, the Gamecocks fell below — well below — expectations. Carolina finished the season with only one Power 5 win after Sept. 20.
Miami limps into Shreveport in similar fashion. The Hurricanes didn’t open the season ranked, but they were expected to make a run at the ACC Coastal Division. Those dreams evaporated as Miami was one of many victims of a second half Florida State comeback on Nov. 15. The Canes lost to Virginia and Pittsburgh to wrap up another middling season under Al Golden.
While this game might not be the top priority for the average college football fan, this will be a key game for momentum into 2015. The winner will be able to move on while the losing team will have a handful of questions.
For South Carolina, a loss brings into question how much energy Steve Spurrier has left before hitting the links for good. For Miami, a loss puts Al Golden onto hot seat lists entering next season.
Miami vs. South Carolina
Kickoff: Dec. 27, 3:30 p.m.
Spread: Miami by 3
Miami’s Key to Victory: Get Duke Johnson going
Johnson’s two lowest rushing totals this season occurred in the final two games of the season against Virginia (88 yards) and Pittsburgh (89). Before that, Johnson was on a hot streak, averaging 162.2 yards per game and 7.8 per carry in the six games prior. The Hurricanes went 4-2 during that streak, the only losses to teams that played in the ACC title game. It’s no surprise that when Johnson isn’t breaking off long runs, Miami has trouble sustaining drives. South Carolina will be ripe for the picking in this matchup. The Gamecocks gave up 284.2 rushing yards per game and 6.3 yards per carry against their last four SEC opponents and Clemson.
South Carolina’s Key to Victory: Limit Brad Kaaya
South Carolina’s defense has been a season-long problem. The same team that had Jadeveon Clowney last season has made life awfully easy on quarterbacks this year. Throw out gimmes against Furman and South Alabama, and South Carolina had only nine sacks all season and only one in the final five games. The Gamecocks also had only three interceptions against SEC opponents and Clemson. If South Carolina is to have any chance, the Gamecocks will need to make Miami freshman QB Brad Kaaya uncomfortable.
This is a classic example of the unpredictable December bowl game. Both teams flashed potential this season. One team beat Georgia and the other gave Florida State all it can handle. Yet both teams had enough glaring flaws to finish 6-6. And given that South Carolina and Miami are used to more exciting bowl destinations, one team or both could come out flat. Yet plenty of pride is on the line as both teams are looking to seal a winning record to salvage the season.