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NCAA Tournament awkwardness: South Carolina wide receiver is a Duke fan

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South Carolina is in the middle of spring football practices but you have to figure that head coach Will Muschamp is going to let the team go home early on Sunday night in order to watch a little basketball.

Not only is the NCAA Tournament going on down the road in Greenville, but the Gamecocks themselves are playing in one of the biggest matchups in school history against No. 2 seeded Duke. While you would think that everybody on the football team would be supportive of their brethren on the hoops team trying to make it to the Sweet 16, it appears one player has a bit of a question of loyalties on the hard court.

“My favorite team is Duke. Since J.J. Redick, I’ve been a Blue Devil,” receiver Deebo Samuel told reporters earlier in the week, including The State, before eventually being pressed on the second round matchup with the Gamecocks. “I’m a Blue Devil but I hope South Carolina wins.”

It wasn’t exactly the most convincing of answers from one of the team’s best offensive threats so things might get a little awkward when the two teams tip off around 8:40 p.m. ET on Sunday. At the same time, he might be one of the lucky ones in the matchup since it appears Samuel is in a potential win-win scenario no matter what school takes home the victory.

USF survives in OT, holds off South Carolina in wild Birmingham Bowl

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South Florida had already set a school record for wins in a season.  Thursday, the Bulls added to it.  Barely.

Trailing 29-14 in the first half of the 11th annual Birmingham Bowl, South Carolina (6-7) roared its way back to tie the game late but its USF that will head back to the Sunshine State with a wild 46-39 win, its fifth in a row to close out the season.  The win was the 11th for the Bulls in 2016, setting a school record.  This year, the 20th anniversary of the first season in the football program’s history, was also the first time they’d reached double-digits in wins, with the previous high being nine wins accomplished on three occasions, the last coming in 2007.

The win was also the Bulls’ first in a bowl game since 2010.  It didn’t come easy, though.  At all.

With the Bulls up 39-21 late in the third, an Elliott Fry field goal cut the Gamecocks’ deficit to 15.  A little over five minutes into the fourth, a Jake Bentley touchdown pass sliced USF’s lead to 39-31.  With an offense that was dominant in the first half suddenly stagnant, the Gamecocks got the ball back again with 6:33 left in the game.  Five plays later they were at the USF 8-yard line; on the sixth play, A.J. Turner appeared headed for what, with a two-point conversion, could’ve been the game-tying touchdown run but fumbled the ball back to the Bulls a yard short of the goal line.

Forcing a Bulls punt from their own end zone after three plays netted next to nothing, Chris Lammons returned a punt that was initially ruled a touchdown but, upon further review, was placed at the two-yard line.  Three plays later, a Turner one-yard run left the ‘Cocks a two-point conversion away from tying the score; a Bentley pass to Hayden Hurst was complete to knot the score at 39-all and send it to overtime.

Quinton Flowers, dominant in the first half but bothered by injury in the second, hit Elkanah Dillon from 25 yards out on the first play of extra time to give the Bulls back the lead.  Facing a fourth down on their first possession of overtime, a strip-sack of Bentley recovered by the Bulls ended the Gamecocks’ comeback hopes.  It was USC’s third red-zone turnover of the game.

Flowers finished the game with five touchdowns — three rushing, two passing — and 366 yards of offense.  He led the team in rushing with 105 yards.

Despite the loss, the future, especially at the quarterback position, certainly looks bright for Will Muschamp & Company.

Bentley finished the game 32-of-43 passing for 390 yards and three touchdowns.  He did, though, throw two interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown in the third quarter.  Sophomore wide receiver Deebo Samuel was on the receiving end of 14 of those completions and 190 of the yards.

The loss drops the SEC to 1-3 this bowl season, one year after going 9-2.

 

The 10 best and 10 worst bowl matchups, as ranked by F/+

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2016’s most even bowl matchup will happen in El Paso, Texas, while the most lopsided game will take place in Boise, Idaho.

Those on-paper analyses are based on the end-of-the-season F/+ rankings, which are explained here on Football Outsiders. Personally, they’re a go-to for getting a rough idea of how good a certain team is, so why not use them to preview the best and worst bowl matchups?

Here are the 10 best games based on how close the two participants’ F/+ rankings are:

Sun Bowl (+1): No. 25 Stanford vs. No. 26 UNC
Fiesta Bowl (+2): No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 4 Clemson
Rose Bowl (+2): No. 7 USC vs. No. 9 Penn State
Sugar Bowl (+2): No. 8 Auburn vs. No. 10 Oklahoma
Armed Forces Bowl (+2): No. 51 Louisiana Tech vs. No. 53 Navy

Peach Bowl (+4): No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 5 Washington
Quick Lane Bowl (+4): No. 93 Boston College vs. No. 97 Maryland
New Mexico Bowl (+5): No. 81 New Mexico vs. No. 86 UT-San Antonio
Citrus Bowl (+6): No. 5 LSU vs. No. 11 Louisville
Cotton Bowl (+10): No. 12 Wisconsin vs. No. 22 Western Michigan

Obviously, the two College Football Playoff games (Ohio State-Clemson, Alabama-Washington) are among the closest, but it’s good to see three of the four other New Year’s Six bowls in here as well. The Orange Bowl (No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 13 Florida State) just barely missed the cut.

As for the 10 biggest mismatches:

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl (+71): No. 29 Colorado State vs. No. 100 Idaho
Birmingham Bowl (+61): No. 33 South Florida vs. No. 94 South Carolina
Military Bowl (+54): No. 18 Temple vs. No. 72 Wake Forest
Cactus Bowl (+52): No. 14 Boise State vs. No. 66 Baylor
Miami Beach Bowl (+45): No. 44 Tulsa vs. No. 89 Central Michigan

Arizona Bowl (+38): No. 49 Air Force vs. No. 87 South Alabama
Las Vegas Bowl (+30): No. 20 Houston vs. No. 50 San Diego State
Poinsettia Bowl (+27): No. 30 BYU vs. No. 57 Wyoming
Heart of Dallas Bowl (+26): No. 85 Army vs. No. 111 North Texas
Russell Athletic Bowl (+25): No. 15 Miami vs. No. 40 West Virginia

It’s not surprising three of these games involve top-level Group of Five teams (South Florida, Temple, Boise State) playing 6-6 Power Five teams (South Carolina, Wake Forest, Baylor), given that’s where a lot of bowl mismatches can take place. It was a little surprising to see the gulf between Houston and San Diego State be so significant, though.

But while these matchups may either be close or lopsided, always remember the ironclad rule of bowl season: Weird stuff is gonna happen. One team may not care while the other does, one team may not deal with the elements (especially in the northern bowls) as well as the other, or one team may come in with something to prove while the other team doesn’t. The best-case scenario for us college football fans is that every game is interesting and worth watching, no matter what the on-paper numbers may say.

Gamecocks felt disrespected by Clemson’s late-game timeouts

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The Clemson Tigers wrapped up their regular season with a dominating performance against in-state rival South Carolina Saturday night. The Gamecocks were used merely as a tune-up for the ACC Championship Game, which will be played next weekend in Orlando against Virginia Tech. With the game well in hand and this being the final game at home for Clemson’s seniors (and a handful of notable juniors), Clemson used some timeouts late in the game to allow for a final sendoff by the Clemson faithful for players that have accomplished so much in the last few years. This did not sit well with South Carolina.

“I feel like they kind of disrespected us at the end,” safety D.J. Smith said after the game, according to The State. “Holding the ball and doing all that showboating. I feel like it wasn’t really classy, but it is a rivalry game. It’s going to stick with all of us and we’re going to remember.”

There was some more alleged ugliness attached to the game as well. South Carolina wide receiver Terry Googer shared his reaction via Twitter, noting there were some racial slurs thrown around from the Clemson side.

South Carolina linebacker Bryson Allen-Williams also suggested a racial slur was hurled at some point in the evening.

“They disrespected us. We’re waiting 365 days to get this team back,” Allen-Williams said, according to The Big Spur. “They did a lot of disrespectful things on the field. We’re on a mission. We’re definitely going to be ready next year at Williams-Brice [Stadium]. They called us N words, some of their linemen. They did a lot of nasty stuff. That’s just not us. Coach Muschamp always talks to us about being a classy program. That’s one thing we’re going to do.”

There is no defending the use of racial slurs but as far as the late-game tributes to the Clemson seniors, some might say to the victors go the spoils. It will be up to South Carolina to next year do what it can to show Clemson how that moment feels when the teams meet again at the end of the 2017 regular season.

Florida QB Luke Del Rio will miss time as SEC East race gets weirder

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Florida quarterback Luke Del Rio is out indefinitely with a shoulder injury, throwing another wrench into an SEC East battle that’s become a grinding war of attrition.

Del Rio injured his shoulder during Florida’s 31-10 loss to Arkansas on Saturday and couldn’t lift his duffle bag, according to coach Jim McElwain. Purdue transfer Austin Appleby will take over at quarterback for the Gators as they head into a strangely pivotal game against South Carolina and former coach Will Muschamp.

Florida is 4-2 in SEC play but still has that makeup game against LSU looming. If Florida loses to South Carolina and LSU, and Kentucky beats Tennessee, Mark Stoops’ Wildcats would play in the SEC Championship game with a 5-3 conference record.

If Florida were to lose out, Kentucky and Tennessee (if it beats Kentucky, Mizzou and Vanderbilt) would be the only teams in the SEC East with a shot at winning five conference games.

South Carolina’s chances of winning the SEC East are slim, but not zero. Josh Kendall of TheState.com laid out the scenario here.

The way things have gone in the SEC East this year, it’s almost fair to expect something weird and improbable to happen. Maybe that means South Carolina or Kentucky wind up playing Alabama in the SEC Championship. Or maybe it’s more mundane than that and Florida beats South Carolina, earning its second consecutive trip to Atlanta. But this is one of those chaotically-intriguing conference races that features far more intrigue than good football.