MIAMI HURRICANES (6-6) VS. SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS (6-6)
DEC. 27, 3:30 P.M. ET, INDEPENDENCE STADIUM, SHREVEPORT, LA. (ABC)
Season highlights: Miami saw the emergence of true freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya, who threw for 2,962 yards and led the ACC with 25 touchdown passes. Duke Johnson had a career year, rushing for 1,520 yards en route to All-ACC honors and the Brian Piccolo Award as the most courageous player in the conference. Linebacker Denzel Perryman and tight end Clive Walford were great as well, giving Miami some outstanding individual performances.
Season lowlights: The problem for Miami was that it could not turn those individual efforts into team wins. The Hurricanes ended the regular season on a three-game losing streak, starting with a devastating 30-26 loss to Florida State. Miami led the Seminoles for three and a half quarters but saw its advantage disappear with three minutes remaining. That defeat seemed to send the Canes into a spiral. They were completely flat in a 30-13 loss to Virginia the following week, their most uninspired performance of the season. Then the Canes lost to Pittsburgh at home. Ultimately, Miami beat only one Power 5 team with a winning record: Duke.
Player to watch: Johnson. He has been consistently terrific in 2014, the first time he has played a full season in his Miami career. Johnson ended up with six 100-yard games and averaged 7 yards per carry, ranking No. 7 in the nation. He also became the school’s all-time leading rusher with 3,387 career yards. But this could be the final time Johnson plays for Miami, as he weighs whether to leave school early to enter the NFL draft.
Motivation factor: Avoid finishing with a losing record. Miami has not climbed back to national prominence, but there has to be some pride involved in finishing with a winning record. The last time Miami posted a losing record was under Randy Shannon in 2007, when the Canes went 5-7. Miami has had a tough time finding motivation when the games don’t really hold much significance; the Canes have lost four straight bowl games, posting their last win in 2006.
-- Andrea Adelson
SOUTH CAROLINA BREAKDOWN
Season highlights: South Carolina bounced back from an ugly opening loss by upsetting No. 6 Georgia in a 38-35 shootout in September. Georgia had a chance to take a late lead, facing first-and-goal at the Gamecocks 4, but South Carolina’s defense held firm and Georgia kicker Marshall Morgan missed the potential game-tying field goal from 28 yards. The Gamecocks would hold on for what would be a key win since they barely reached bowl eligibility.
Season lowlights: The Gamecocks opened the season as the nation’s No. 9 team, but any thought that they deserved that ranking evaporated in the first game. Led by new starting quarterback Kenny Hill, Texas A&M thrashed South Carolina 52-28, with Hill breaking A&M’s school record with 511 passing yards. It was the first in a series of embarrassing defensive performances for a South Carolina program that has boasted strong defensive teams in recent seasons.
Player to watch: Pharoh Cooper. The Gamecocks receiver emerged as one of the SEC’s most electric offensive players this season, finishing with 60 catches for 966 yards and eight touchdowns plus 198 rushing yards and two more scores. The 5-foot-11 Cooper is not a prototypical wideout, but his playmaking ability makes South Carolina’s offense fun to watch.
Motivation factor: Eh. This has been a season to forget at South Carolina, with the Gamecocks losing three of their last five games -- narrow defeats to Auburn and Tennessee (in overtime) and a flat 35-17 loss at rival Clemson. Steve Spurrier has already stated that he plans to return as South Carolina’s coach, and he will have plenty to prove in the bowl game and beyond about whether he can revive the program after this down season.
-- David Ching