With the College Football Playoff rankings in full swing and the season entering the home stretch, bowl projections are less off-the-wall speculation now and slightly more educated guesses. Here’s a quick rundown of where various outlets currently think the Gamecocks could land:
Citrus Bowl (Orlando): Penn State vs. South Carolina (SBNation)
At first blush, this is kind of a terrifying matchup, given Penn State’s recent status as a playoff contender and Saquon Barkley, who is a Heisman Trophy frontrunner. But the Nittany Lions have looked more mortal with back-to-back losses to Ohio State and Michigan State, and have taken a tumble in the polls. With Ohio State then turning around and getting destroyed by Iowa, it’s a little difficult to sort out the Big Ten’s overall quality right now. Still, this tops my list as the “No thank you” projection.
Music City Bowl (Nashville, Tenn.): Northwestern vs. South Carolina (Sports Illustrated and CBS Sports’ Jerry Palm)
Northwestern is an interesting team. The Wildcats have won three straight overtime games, one of which was against Michigan State in triple OT, and another against Iowa — both quality wins. Northwestern has long occupied a role in the Big Ten similar to Vanderbilt in the SEC, but occasionally does field a squad that surprises. This would be a winnable matchup for the Gamecocks, but certainly not easy. Nashville is a phenomenal place to visit, too.
Belk Bowl (Charlotte): Wake Forest vs. South Carolina (ESPN’s Kyle Bonagura)
Despite its proximity, South Carolina has somehow never played in the Charlotte bowl game, even when it was the Continental Tire Bowl or the Meineke Car Care Bowl. The Gamecocks were either too good for it, too bad, or because they’d already played in the Belk Kickoff earlier that year, the committee perhaps preferred to pass. Given the N.C. State game, I don’t know if the Belk folks would double-dip, but it’s possible if they wanted to hedge their bets for attendance.
As for Wake Forest, another program with a similar profile to Northwestern, the Demon Deacons enjoyed a hot start to their season before tailing off as ACC heavyweights started to appear on the schedule. Nonetheless, they hung tough with Florida State, losing 26-19 on a last-minute touchdown; beat Louisville handily, 42-32; and acquitted themselves fairly well against Clemson (28-14) and Notre Dame (48-37). Like the hypothetical Northwestern matchup, this would likely be a winnable but competitive game.
TaxSlayer Bowl (Jacksonville): Virginia Tech vs. South Carolina (ESPN’s David Hale)
This is my personal favorite of the bunch, just because I think it’d be an interesting (albeit very difficult) game and I’d like to see how the Gamecocks stack up to a program like Virginia Tech. Justin Fuente was also a coach some fans wanted before Will Muschamp was ultimately hired, so that’s another layer of intrigue. The No. 13 Hokies have flopped in both of their high-profile games this season (31-17 loss to Clemson; 28-10 loss to Miami), but have otherwise looked dominant and also picked up a nice season-opening win against West Virginia. The thought of South Carolina’s offense going against Bud Foster’s defense is not particularly enjoyable, but this could be a good measuring stick game.
TaxSlayer Bowl (Jacksonville): Iowa vs. South Carolina (USA Today)
This just brings back bad memories of the 2009 Outback Bowl in Tampa, when Stephen Garcia’s “homecoming” was spoiled with a nightmarish 31-10 blowout as Shonn Greene ran wild on the Gamecocks. I can’t say I’m keen on the idea of a rematch, but maybe some South Carolina fans would appreciate the chance at a revenge game. The Gamecocks have done very well against the Big Ten in bowls lately.