This may be a worst nightmare of an opponent for both teams. No knocks intended, but neither school has much to gain with a victory, in terms of national respect.
For South Carolina, everyone will expect the SEC school to defeat the CUSA champs. Meanwhile, Houston fans and players would have preferred a chance to prove themselves against a school with a better record.
In reality, though, this is not a bad pairing and the computer only gives the Gamecocks an edge of 3.73 points.
In examining the schedules, South Carolina's best wins came against Clemson (computer ranked No. 26) and Kentucky (computer ranked No. 56). But they played several of the top SEC teams close, with losses by 7 points or less to Florida, Arkansas, Auburn and Tennessee. On the other hand, they only managed to beat 1-AA Wofford 27-20 while surrendering nearly 400 yards of offense to the Terriers, including 330 yards rushing.
Houston's best wins measure up to South Carolina's, at least in terms of opponent rankings. The Cougars defeated Tulsa (computer ranked No. 37), Southern Miss (computer ranked No. 47), and Oklahoma State (computer ranked No. 60). A 1-point loss at Miami looked
impressive when it occurred, but the Hurricanes stumbled to a 6-6 finish and No. 54 ranking. The loss to Louisiana-Lafayette is completely inexcusable.
CUSA was watered down severely with the recent losses of TCU, Louisville, South Florida and Cincinnati. Central Florida and Marshall from the MAC, along with four teams from the WAC - Rice, SMU, Tulsa and UTEP - were hardly equitable replacements.
Houston hasn't won a bowl game since 1980. South Carolina is just 3-9 all-time in these holiday games, but 3-1 in their last four bowls dating back to 1994.
Anyone vaguely familiar with the Cougars won't be surprised that they led CUSA in points scored and total yards. They may be shocked to learn that Houston was only second in passing yards, and just 34 yards away from being ranked first in rushing yards, too.
Quarterback Kevin Kolb (pronounced 'Cobb') was picked off just three times all year while throwing 27 touchdown passes. He completed 67.7 percent of his throws and ranked seventh nationally in passing yards with 3,423. Three different receivers had over 630 yards in receptions.
Running backs Anthony Alridge (904 yards) and Jackie Battle (858 yards) combined to rush for 1,762 yards and 21 touchdowns.
Defensively, the Cougars were mediocre, allowing just under 22 points and 340 yards per game.
South Carolina, as its record would indicate, was a middle-of-the-pack team in the major SEC statistical categories. Inconsistency has been the glaring problem.
Blake Mitchell began the year under center, gave way to Syvelle Newton prior to the Wofford game, and regained the starting QB role at halftime of the Arkansas loss. Mitchell's suspension came about when he slugged a bar bouncer. But Mitchell had already fell out of favor with head coach Steve Spurrier for his ineffectiveness on the field in the Gamecock's first two games, especially the
18-0 shutout loss at home to Georgia.
The two QB's wound up with nearly identical ratings, but Mitchell had the better completion percentage (67.1 to 58.6) while Newton had the better TD-INT ratio.
Cory Boyd led all Gamecock rushers with 729 yards. Sydney Rice is the go-to receiver with 64 catches for 951 yards and 9 TD's.
The South Carolina has a bend-but-don't-break flavor to it. They've been known to give up a lot of yards but still held opponents to an average of only 17.3 points per game.
Junior Linebacker Jasper Brinkley leads the defense with 96 tackles, nearly double the number of his closest teammate.