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It’s a battle between the Carolinas at Bank of America stadium, as North Carolina faces South Carolina in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl. Kick-off is set for 11:30 on Thursday. While both teams finished with mediocre 6-6 records, South Carolina was an over achiever under first year head coach Shane Beamer, pulling off big wins over Florida and Auburn late in the season. The Tar Heels, on the other hand, didn’t live up to lofty expectations in a year that that started with a preseason #10 ranking.

It’s been an inconsistent season for the Tar Heels offense, which lost a ton of talent to the NFL but still had outstanding quarterback Sam Howell. This game will likely be the last time fans see Howell in a UNC uniform, the junior graduated earlier this month and is expected to enter the NFL Draft. Can he end his college career on a high note? If the offensive line can give him time to throw the ball, yes!

Howell finished the regular season with nearly 2,900 passing yards and 23 touchdowns, and also rushed for a career high 824 yards and 11 more scores. And he has multiple playmakers, starting with sophomore receiver Josh Downs, who was second in the ACC with 1,273 yards and had eight touchdowns. Running back Ty Chandler was third in the league with 1,063 yards and 13 scores. The Tar Heels led the ACC in rushing offense, picking up 300 yards or more in three of their last four games. That’s bad news for a Gamecocks team that allowed over 200 rushing yards five times in the last nine games and went 0-5 in those contests.

The good news for the Gamecocks is their passing defense is excellent, and they’ve got a front seven that can bring the pressure. They also ranked first in the SEC with 24 turnovers, with safety Jaylan Foster tied for number one in the nation with five interceptions. But sack leader Kingsley Enagbare is one of multiple Gamecocks opting out for the NFL, so Foster and the rest of the defense is going to have to step up to slow down Howell and company.

North Carolina’s defense has been underwhelming this season, ranking 87th in the nation giving up 408 yards and nearly 32 points per game. They’ll face a USC offense that is averaging just 23 points a contest and lost quarterback Jason Brown to the transfer portal. So grad student Zeb Noland will be under center for this game, he’s thrown for 608 yards and six touchdowns in six appearances this season. Noland will have leading receiver Josh Vann for the game, but rushing leader ZaQuandre White also transferred so look for junior running back Kevin Harris to make an impact in this one.

North Carolina and South Carolina have met 58 times overall, with the Tar Heels leading the series 35-19-4. They last met in the 2019 season opener, also in Charlotte, with the Heels winning it 24-20 in Sam Howell’s debut. Look for Howell to finish his collegiate career like he started it, with a win over the Gamecocks. Go Tar Heels!

By Sharon Thorsland