COLUMBIA — South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley has a preferred destination for the Gamecocks this bowl season, but he’s keeping that a secret.
After dispatching Akron, 28-3, on a miserable, rainy Saturday afternoon at Williams-Brice Stadium, the Gamecocks (7-5) can finally turn their attention to their upcoming bowl game, which will be announced Sunday.
“I have a bowl I want to go to, but I don’t want to say because I don’t want to make anyone mad,” Bentley said with a chuckle. “It doesn’t matter where we play, it’s another game and a chance for us to get better. That’s the most important thing. We know we’re going to play against a great opponent.”
The most likely destination for the Gamecocks appears to be the Belk Bowl, which will be played at noon on Dec. 29 in Charlotte.
The other top contenders for the Gamecocks are the Music City (Nashville, Tenn.), Liberty (Memphis, Tenn.) and Gator (Jacksonville, Fla.) bowls.
South Carolina has never played in the Belk Bowl and the last time the Gamecocks played in Jacksonville was in 1987 when they faced LSU.
South Carolina faced Vanderbilt earlier this season in Nashville (the Music City Bowl would be played at the Tennessee Titans' stadium), while the Gamecocks took part in the Liberty Bowl in 2006.
The SEC will ultimately determine where the Gamecocks will play this postseason, unlike years ago when schools' athletic directors and bowl scouts would collaborate on matchups. Muschamp sat down with South Carolina athletic director Ray Tanner and submitted a list of bowls they’d prefer.
“I know coach Tanner has been working with the SEC offices, so wherever they decide to send us is fine with us,” Muschamp said. “The SEC offices kind of make those decisions nowadays. At the end of the day, you are what your record is and that’s where you will go.”
With the early football signing period set for Dec. 19, the Gamecocks will already have the vast majority of their 2019 recruiting class locked up by the bowl. Muschamp said he expects to sign between 18 and 20 players during the early period, but that still leaves several spots available for February’s second signing period.
Charlotte, Jacksonville, Memphis and Nashville are prime recruiting areas for the Gamecocks.
“Those are places where we recruit pretty heavily,” Muschamp said. “So any of those bowls will work in our favor when it comes to recruiting.”
South Carolina will be headed to its third straight bowl under Muschamp, who is 1-1 in the postseason at USC. The Gamecocks beat Michigan in last year’s Outback Bowl.
ESPN, Yahoo and Sports Illustrated have the Gamecocks facing Duke in the Belk Bowl, while CBS and USA Today have South Carolina taking on Baylor in the Liberty Bowl.
For years, the Belk Bowl has wanted the Gamecocks, but one problem might be next season's schedule. The Gamecocks are going to open the 2019 season on Aug. 31 against North Carolina at Bank of America Stadium, site of the Belk Bowl.
That doesn't appear to be an issue this year.
“So many things go into it,” Muschamp said of the selection process. “Whether it’s head-to-head matchup, your conference record is important. Obviously if you’ve been to a place the year before, maybe they’ll have to bring somebody else to town, or a school doesn’t want to go.
"So they slot it that way depending on what the league office sees and what they think is best for our league and what the best matchup is.”