2018 Belk Bowl - Can Virginia Overcome South Carolina?
South Carolina Gamecocks (7-5) vs. Virginia Cavaliers (7-5) Saturday, December 29th – Charlotte, NC – 12:00pm ET (ESPN) Betting Line: South Carolina -5.5 (53.5)South Carolina QB Jake Bentley rounded into form following a slow start and injury to pass for 2,953 yards, averaging 289 yards and passing for 20 touchdowns in the Gamecocks final seven games. However, Bentley and the Gamecocks offense will play without leading WR Deebo Samuel, who is letting his teammates down and skipping the game in favor of self-serving interests to prepare for the NFL draft. Virginia has a second-team All-American at cornerback in Bryce Hall, who will shut down the Gamecocks No. 2 receiver Bryan Edwards.
South Carolina’s defense is deficient against the run, allowing 201.1 rushing yards per game versus FBS opponents including 274.7 over their last three games. Three players along the defensive line are out for this contest, Javon Kinlaw, D.J. Wonnun and Daniel Fennel. Three freshman will see significant time up front, and senior cornerback Keisean Nixton is also out.
South Carolina’s run defense deficiencies should be exposed in the 2018 Belk Bowl by Virginia dual-threat QB Bryce Perkins, who set the Cavaliers' single season total yards record this season with 3,314 yards and touchdowns with 31. The balance on offense includes leading receiver Olamide Zaccheaus, who has 82 receptions for 973 yards this season.
Virginia lost three of their final four games including the excruciating finale against rival Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, 34-31. But head coach Bronco Mendenhall has instilled a positive and infections new standard into the program, and will have his team prepared for their second consecutive bowl game. Not bad for a team picked to finish last by many prognosticators before the season and had not played in back-to-back bowls in 14 years.
South Carolina and their up-tempo spread offense averaged just 25:34 minutes of possession time per game to rank No. 127 in the country. Virginia controlled possession for 31:43 and the Cavs' ability to move the ball against the deficient South Carolina defense and control the ball, clock and chains will be significant in this bowl match-up.
2018 Belk Bowl Pick – Virginia Cavaliers +5.5
Fairway Jay is a professional handicapper based out of Las Vegas. He focuses primarily on the four majors along with college football and college basketball. You can follow him on Twitter @FairwayJay.