2021 Duke’s Mayo Bowl Preview: South Carolina vs. North Carolina

The North Carolina Tar Heels were one of the most disappointing teams in college football in 2021. They were projected to win their division, and they came nowhere close to doing that. However, in terms of winning their bowl game and capping their season on a happy note, they have to feel good about their chances. Yet, their opponent – South Carolina – has been overachieving all year after being underestimated by pundits. This is a fascinating game which could go in any of several directions, and there’s a lot to consider.

South Carolina Gamecocks vs. North Carolina Tar Heels  
Thursday, December 30th, 11:30 AM ET

Location: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, NC

CFB Odds: North Carolina -9

South Carolina Gamecocks

The Gamecocks had a terrific season. Hardly anyone expected that they would be able to qualify for a bowl game, but they did, defying the odds in the process. First-year head coach Shane Beamer exceeded what analysts were projecting, and it is clear that he will be able to recruit quality players to South Carolina in the near future. He just landed quarterback Spencer Rattler from Oklahoma in the transfer portal. He is doing a lot of good things.

On the field this season, South Carolina sprang upsets over Florida and Auburn, two games the Gamecocks were definitely not predicted to win. South Carolina also defeated East Carolina, a crucial early-season win which gave this team the belief that it would win tough and close games in the fourth quarter. That was a big building block. If South Carolina had not won that game, it probably would not have pulled out a last-minute comeback win over Vanderbilt later in the season. This was hardly a dominant team or even an above-average team, but it won very close games against similarly-talented opponents, enough to make a bowl game. Resilience and belief carried this group a long way, and now the Gamecocks will try to pull one more upset as they close their season.

North Carolina Tar Heels

The Tar Heels were the favorite in the ACC Coastal Division, with Miami being the second choice. Yet, neither Carolina nor Miami came anywhere close to meeting expectations. North Carolina was done in this year by a terrible defense which fell apart time and time again. That defense put the offense in bad situations. Falling behind often in games meant that UNC had to throw the ball constantly and could not follow its normal game plan. Quarterback Sam Howell did not play nearly as well as many people thought he would. He entered the 2021 season as a Heisman Trophy candidate, but he never lived up to that hype. There were occasional glimpses of strong play, but the hope generated by his late surge in the 2020 season – when North Carolina scored 62 points against Miami and gave Texas A&M a tough battle in the Orange Bowl – did not materialize into something better.


Sam Howell did not declare for the NFL draft. He did not opt out of this bowl game. He will play against South Carolina. That’s huge, and a likely reason for North Carolina to win this game, though not in a blowout due to its defensive weaknesses.

Gamecocks vs. Tar Heels Prediction:

Tar Heels 38, Gamecocks 31


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