South Carolina (7-5) and Virginia, which is assured of a winning record for the first time since 2011, have not played since 2003, when the Gamecocks claimed a 31-7 victory in Columbia, S.C.
All of the Gamecocks' losses this season have come against ranked opponents.
“I love the matchup, I love the game, and I love the draw for so many reasons,” Cavaliers Coach Bronco Mendenhall said Sunday in a conference call. “The proximity of the game and the location and the stadium the game is in I think is exceptional.
“I love the quality of the game, and I love the messaging that sends, that we’ve qualified for a high-tier bowl game, and it reflects progress, and it reflects the new standard that’s part of our program, and I love a chance to match up against an SEC opponent.”
The Gamecocks don’t have far to travel to reach the Belk Bowl, either. The stadium is approximately 90 minutes from South Carolina’s campus.
Virginia is making its third appearance in a bowl game in Charlotte but its first in the Belk Bowl. In 2002 and ’03 when the game was called the Continental Tire Bowl, the Cavaliers beat West Virginia and Pittsburgh, respectively.
Belk began its sponsorship of the bowl 2011.
This year’s Belk Bowl marks Virginia’s first matchup against an SEC opponent since it lost to Auburn in the 2011 Chick-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta.
“That adds a nice ACC-SEC intrigue element,” said Mendenhall, now in his third season with the Cavaliers. “And it gives our players an experience they haven’t had, at least since I’ve been the coach here, to match their skills and to measure our program against another league.”
Mendenhall indicated that a plan for how much the team will practice in the next few weeks remains in flux, particularly as it applies to quarterback Bryce Perkins.
The junior transfer hurt his left ankle Nov. 17 during a 30-27 overtime loss to Georgia Tech and left Bobby Dodd Stadium with a walking boot. The injury appeared potentially season ending, but Perkins was back in the starting lineup the day after Thanksgiving in a 34-31 overtime loss to Virginia Tech.
“As it relates, to Bryce, he’ll be one of the primary considerations of how we design practice since he is our quarterback,” Mendenhall said, “and his readiness will have a lot to do with our team’s readiness, but as we’re speaking right now, I don’t have the designs set.”
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