Miami Hurricanes (-3.5, 61 o/u) vs. South Carolina Gamecocks
Two teams that disappointed in the regular season will clash in the Duck Commander Independence Bowl on Saturday (Dec. 27), when the Miami Hurricanes take on the South Carolina Gamecocks at Independence Stadium in Shreveport, LA (3:30 p.m. Eastern).
After winning six of their first nine games, the Miami Hurricanes faltered down the stretch, losing three straight to finish at 6-6. Similarly, the Gamecocks struggled to find consistency all season, hovering around .500 for most of the year and eventually finishing with an identical 6-6 record.
With junior running back Duke Johnson leading the charge, the Hurricanes had hoped for more on offense this year, but only managed 29.9 points per game (60th in the nation). The defense was a bit better, holding opponents to 24.3 (43rd).
In mid-November, the team was on the cusp of a signature win over undefeated Florida State. Despite being 3.5-point home dogs, the Canes led 23-17 heading into the fourth quarter. But the defense couldn’t contain the Noles in the fourth and Miami fell, 30-26.
The future looks bright at Miami, though, as the team finally seems to have found the premier QB it’s been missing since the days of Ken Dorsey; freshman pivot Brad Kaaya showed a ton of promise in his first season at Miami, throwing for almost 3,000 yards, 25 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions. While the rookie struggled with his accuracy at times, the good far outweighed the bad, and Hurricane fans will be expecting big things from Kaaya next year.
For head coach Al Golden, next year really begins on Saturday.
“We are thrilled for the opportunity to compete against a program with the tradition and talent of South Carolina,” Miami coach Al Golden said in a statement released by the school. “The 2014 Independence Bowl not only provides our program with a great matchup, but it also gives us a tremendous opportunity to improve, gain valuable practice time and postseason experience.”
The Gamecocks came into the season ranked No. 9 in the AP Poll. However, they were blown out by Texas A&M in the very first game of the year (52-28) and never rose higher than No. 14 thereafter. They picked up quality wins over Georgia (38-35 at home) and Florida (23-20 on the road on OT), but struggled in SEC play, generally, going just 3-5.
The offense has held its own for South Carolina most of the year, averaging 33.3 points per game (37th in the country), but the defense has let the team down on a regular basis, surrendering 31.2 PPG on average (93rd) and giving up 45 to Tennessee and Kentucky and 42 to Auburn.
“I think [facing Miami] will certainly get the attention of our players, and, hopefully, we’ll be ready to play our best. Hopefully, we can account for the Gamecocks a lot better than the last time out,” said head coach Steve Spurrier, referring to a 35-17 loss to Clemson in the last week of the regular season.
The Gamecocks were just 4-8 against the spread this year and do not have a good bowl history, overall, going 7-12 all-time. However, the team has had success in the postseason lately, winning three straight, including last year’s Capital One Bowl over Wisconsin, 34-24.
The Hurricanes were 5-7 against the spread this year and are 18-17 all-time in bowl games. However, they are trending the opposite direction as the Gamecocks, losing four straight. Last year, they dropped the Russell Athletic Bowl to Louisville, 36-9, and they haven’t won a bowl game since the 2006 MEC Computers Bowl, when they narrowly edged Nevada, 21-20.
Despite the trends, the Hurricanes are 3.5-point favorites in the odds. Whether the Canes can break their bowl game slump will largely depend on how their freshman QB responds to the post-season pressure.
(Photo credit: John Martinez Pavliga (flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode]. Photo has been cropped.)