For the first time in 15 years, a pair of old, southern rivals will get together as the South Carolina Gamecocks face the Virginia Cavaliers in the 2018 Belk Bowl. Game time is set for noon EST on Saturday, December 29, at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte. The game will be broadcast nationally on ABC.
South Carolina is currently favored by 4.5 points over Virginia. The over/under for the game is set at 54 points. Be sure to check out a full list of this year’s bowl game betting odds.
Despite losing three of their last four games to finish the season, the Cavaliers should be pleased with their 2018 campaign. Bronco Mendenhall has led Virginia to a bowl game in consecutive years for the first time since 2005. At 7-5, the Cavs have also clinched their first winning record since 2011. Of course, there is some sense of disappointment after finishing the regular season with back-to-back losses to Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech. However, winning their first bowl game since 2005 would definitely put a nice cherry on top of Virginia’s season.
South Carolina will also be content but a little disappointed with their 2018 season. After going 9-4 last season, the Gamecocks were hoping to make some noise in the SEC East this year. However, they ended up with a modest 7-5 record, going 4-4 in conference play. On the bright side, Will Muschamp has gotten South Carolina to a bowl game in each of his first three seasons at the helm, bringing some stability to the program after the Steve Spurrier era. The goal is to now continue a string of success in bowl games, as the Gamecocks have won five of their last six dating back to 2011.
In 35 all-time meetings between these schools, South Carolina has a 21-13-1 edge over the Cavaliers. However, the teams haven’t met since a two-game series in 2002 and 2003 when Al Groh and Lou Holtz were the head coaches. Virginia and South Carolina split those two games, with the home team winning both games. Now they’ll be meeting on neutral turf in the 2018 Belk Bowl.
In games between middle-of-the-pack SEC teams and middle-of-the-pack ACC teams, the smart money is always on the SEC team. South Carolina and Virginia may have the same record, but I have little doubt that the Gamecocks have a distinct advantage in talent. As long as the spread remains less than a touchdown, I’m comfortable eating the points and leaning toward South Carolina.
First of all, I have a ton of respect for what Mendenhall has accomplished during his time at Virginia. But there’s a big difference between playing the ACC Coastal division and playing in the ACC East. The Cavaliers played in a division in which no team won more than seven games despite producing six bowl teams. They also went 3-3 inside that division. Meanwhile, South Carolina played in a division that also produced six bowl teams, including three top-15 teams. South Carolina also went 3-3 inside that division. Clearly, there was a difference in the level of difficulty that led both of these teams to finish 7-5.
Again, Virginia deserves plenty of credit. Quarterback Bryce Perkins was a revelation this season and a true dual-threat quarterback. He finished the season with over 3,200 all-purpose yards and 31 total touchdowns. But he did all that against a modest schedule. Games against NC State and Miami were the only time Perkins and the Cavaliers faced anything close to SEC-level athleticism. Those also happened to be two of the worst games Perkins had this season.
Meanwhile, South Carolina is accustomed to facing elite offensive teams. Naturally, they had plenty of struggles against some of the elite offensive teams they faced like Georgia and Clemson. However, they faced several quarterbacks with mobility and dynamic running skills like Perkins, so they won’t be fearful of the Virginia offense. I’d be surprised if Perkins didn’t make a few nice plays. But South Carolina has the speed on defense to keep him largely contained.
On the other side of the ball, I will give the Virginia defense some credit as well. Only four teams managed 30 points or more against them this season, and two of those occasions were games that went to overtime. The Cavs are a solid defensive team, so I don’t see them getting pushed around in this game.
However, outside of NC State, a team they lost to by two touchdowns, South Carolina may be the best offensive team the Cavs will play this year. Quarterback Jake Bentley flew under the radar, but he ended up having a nice year, throwing for nearly 3,000 yards. He really started to show improvement during the second half of the season and showed no fear in a five-touchdown performance against Clemson late in the season. With plenty of prep time, I think he’ll be ready to have a big game in the Belk Bowl.
While I like Virginia and appreciate what they accomplished this year, I still think South Carolina is a level above them. The Gamecocks finished with the same record against a much more difficult schedule. I also think South Carolina’s athleticism and depth is a little more than Virginia can handle. The Cavs will make this interesting, but I like the Gamecocks to cover.