DUCK COMMANDER INDEPENDENCE BOWL STORYLINES
1. Miami (Fla.) versus South Carolina has the feel of a marquee bowl matchup, although the numbers seem to tell a different story. When the teams square off at the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La., both squads will be looking to avoid finishing the season below .500 and each team is hoping to recover from a disappointing conclusion to the regular season. Miami has lost three straight, including a heart-breaker to No. 2 Florida State, while South Carolina has dropped five of its last eight games.
2. Defense was the biggest weakness for South Carolina this season as the team dropped from No. 9 in the preseason poll to barely qualifying for a bowl game. In their six losses, the Gamecocks allowed 52, 21, 45, 42, 45 and 35 points. The only two times that South Carolina allowed fewer than 21 points came in a pair of blowout wins against Furman and South Alabama - the only two regulation victories for South Carolina since Sept. 20.
3. The Gamecocks could have their hands full with a Hurricanes team that has some dangerous offensive weapons despite the late-season slump. Junior running back Duke Johnson ranks second in the ACC with 1,520 rushing yards and averages seven yards per carry, which provides a nice security blanket for freshman Brad Kaaya (2,962 yards, 25 touchdowns, 11 interceptions). Miami averaged 44 points during a three-game winning streak against Cincinnati, Virginia Tech and North Carolina, but that hot stretch was followed by a four-point loss to the Seminoles, which seemingly sent the Hurricanes into a tail spin.
TV: 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC. LINE: Miami -3
ABOUT MIAMI (6-6, 3-5 ACC): Many would be surprised to learn that Miami has not won a bowl game since 2006, losing its last four postseason contests, including a 36-9 trouncing at the hands of Louisville in last year's Russell Athletic Bowl. The Hurricanes, who have averaged 13.5 points in their last six bowl appearances, need Johnson to return to the form that saw him reach 100 rushing yards in six straight games after the star junior posted his two worst games - 88 and 89 yards - in the Hurricanes' final two contests. “It needs to feel like a one-game season, if you will," said Hurricanes coach Al Golden, who won't have the services of senior tight end Clive Walford (knee). "We have all the vets who we’re trying to get healed up and we want to send them off winners. And then you have like 97 guys that are coming back and they know what this means in terms of our future."
ABOUT SOUTH CAROLINA (6-6, 3-5 SEC): The Gamecocks have won three straight Bowl appearances - all against current Big Ten members Nebraska, Michigan and Wisconsin - but suffered a tough loss in their last trip to the Independence Bowl, when they blew a 21-0 lead to Missouri in 2005. Pharoh Cooper is South Carolina's offensive star, entering this matchup with 60 receptions for 966 yards and eight TDs - all team highs - and the sophomore also has mixed in eight pass attempts this season, completing five balls for 78 yards and two TDs. "I kept reminding our guys, 'We've got to get it to Pharoh, get to Pharoh - and we didn't,'" South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier lamented to reporters after a 35-17 loss to Clemson in the regular-season finale.
PREDICTION: Miami 29, South Carolina 27