2006 Liberty Bowl - Houston vs. So. Carolina

Posted Dec 14, 2006

2006 AutoZone Liberty Bowl - Houston vs. South Carolina

South Carolina (7-5) vs. Houston (10-3)

Dec. 29th, 4:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

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Liberty Bowl Player Profile: South Carolina LB Jasper Brinkley, team bowl history and more

One thing's absolutely, positively for certain: one team is going to get over a brutally ugly bowl run.

The Liberty Bowl went from being one of the traditional duds of the bowl season to a good one over the last two years, and now, hopefully, some of the magic will wear off on South Carolina, who's 3-11 in bowl games, and Houston, who's 0 for its last five post-season appearances not winning since the 1980 Garden State Bowl.

A win over a middle of the pack SEC team would do wonders for Conference USA. Who'll take the league seriously on a national scale if the C-USA champion gets obliterated? On the flip side, this is a winnable game for the SEC to make the final bowl tally look good. This is also a big, important game for USC head coach Steve Spurrier after losing last year's Independence Bowl to Missouri and with some Gamecock fans still waiting for the visor magic to kick in.

National Rankings
South Carolina Houston
Total Offense
28th  385.25 ypg 6th  439.85 ypg
Total Defense
46th  321 ypg 66th  339.08 ypg
Scoring Offense
52nd  25.17 ppg 11th  32.77 ppg
Scoring Defense
22nd  17.25 ppg 52nd  21.92 ppg
Run Offense
52nd  140.58 ypg 29th  170.85 ypg
Run Defense
77th  147.83 ypg 67th  139.92 ypg
Pass Offense
24th  244.67 ypg 12th  269 ypg
Pass Defense
22nd  173.17 ypg 61st  199.15 ypg
Turnover Margin
75th  -0.25 14th  0.77
South Carolina
at Miss St W 15-0
Georgia L 18-0
Wofford W 27-20
Fla Atlantic W 45-6
Auburn L 24-17
at Kent.
W 24-17
at Vandy W 31-13
Tennessee L 31-24
Arkansas L 26-20
at Florida L 17-16
W 52-7
at Clemson W 31-28
at Rice W 31-30
Tulane W 45-7
Grambl St W 42-22
Okla St W 34-25
at Miami L 14-13
UL Lafayette L 31-28
at So Miss L 31-27
UTEP W 34-17
UCF W 51-31
Tulsa W 27-10
at SMU W 37-27
at Mem. W 23-20 OT
C-USA Championship
So Miss W 34-2
Position Ratings
relative to each other
SC 5 highest
1 lowest
3.5 Quarterbacks 5
3.5 RBs 4
4 Receivers 4
3.5 O Line 2.5
4 D Line 2.5
4 Linebackers 3
4 Secondary 3
4 Spec Teams 3
4.5 Coaching 4

South Carolina is a better team than the 7-5 record might indicate after suffering some of the toughest losses in America. Losing to Georgia, to Auburn (in a 24-17 nail-biter), to Tennessee (by seven), to Arkansas (by six) and Florida (in a 17-16 loss that USC should've won) is nothing to hang your head over. While the argument could be made that Spurrier's club was roughly five plays away from a truly special season, it also won its share of close battles along the way.

Depending on who you want to believe, either Spurrier has done one of his most masterful coaching jobs over the last two seasons, making the program as competitive as its been without a lot of top-shelf playmakers, especially at quarterback, or else he hasn't quite been able to break though and get things going as well as many might have hoped for.

Relying a bit too much on trick plays to kickstart the attack at times, and without enough consistent explosion to mount big-time comebacks, this isn't a Gamecock offense that can drop 45 just by showing up. The team is more about defense than offense, but that's obviously not what Spurrier is known for.

Houston, on the other hand, if full of home runs just waiting to be hit. Led by four-year starting QB Kevin Kolb, the attack is balanced and effective with several weapons that can turn little plays into backbreaking scores. Vincent Marshall is one of the fastest receivers South Carolina will have faced, while RB Anthony Alridge has another gear that'll get him a look at the next level.

Great at getting up for the big games, the Cougars pushed Miami, back when there was still life in the program, beat Oklahoma State, and won five straight games before taking the Conference USA title with a dominant 34-20 win over Southern Miss. If Houston is ever going to play with the bigger boys, it'll come up with a win here.

With a glut of bowl games on the 29th, this should be able to hold your attention more than some of the others as long as the South Carolina defense doesn't dominate from the word go. It would also help if ...

Players to watch: ... Kevin Kolb could make up for last year's performance in the Fort Worth Bowl disaster against Kansas. Throwing for just 214 yards and three interceptions against the Jayhawks, and throwing two picks in the bowl loss to Hawaii two years earlier, Kolb has some unfinished business to put a cap on a fantastic career. Houston's all-time leading passer, Kolb was brilliant throwing 27 touchdown passes and just three interceptions all season long. He didn't force the offense like he did in the past and spread it around better than he did in his previous three years.

Kolb's counterpart, South Carolina's Blake Mitchell, returned after being hurt/injured/benched midway through season and turned into a night-and-day more effective passer. While he suffered a setback throwing three interceptions in the win over Clemson, and he could stand to make better reads, he's starting to figure out what he's doing and is starting to fit what Spurrier is looking for from his quarterback. Emphasize the word starting.

Mitchell's top target is sophomore Sidney Rice, who has been brilliant against the mediocre and average against everyone else. Of his nine touchdown catches on the year, five game against Florida Atlantic and two came against Middle Tennessee. He'll catch his passes and will the get the ball thrown his way again and again, especially around the goal line, utilizing his great combination of size and athleticism. The Houston secondary is merely average.

Houston's most dangerous playmaker throughout the Conference USA season was junior RB Anthony Alridge, a former receiver who averaged a whopping 10.6 yards per carry. He's not a workhorse and the offense tries to pick its spots when to use him, but when he gets the ball in space, especially on the outside, he's gone.

South Carolina will win if... it gets the ground game moving. The Gamecock offense is known for its passing attack mostly because that's what everyone focuses on, but the ground game is the better barometer for how well the attack is doing. Mitchell is a good passer, but when the entire offense falls on his shoulders, he's not nearly as effective as he is when he's just part of the attack. The Gamecocks are 7-1 when they run for more than 150 yards with the one loss coming to Tennessee mainly because of three interceptions.

Houston will win if... make this a shootout and don't make mistakes. As strange as this might sound considering it's a Steve Spurrier coached team on the other side of the field, Houston is better equipped for a firefight with the better quarterback and more overall speed among the skill players. The Cougars are always good for at least a fumble a game, but Kolb is as stingy as they come securing the ball. If Kolb starts throwing picks against the talented USC secondary, Houston will be in big trouble.

What will happen: South Carolina will win if it's heart is in it. After the loss to Missouri in last year's Independence Bowl, the team was accused of not exactly playing with the proper energy level and spark after jumping out to a big lead. The coaching staff will make sure that doesn't happen twice. Houston is hardly going to roll over with a veteran team looking to validate its championship season with a win over a name team, but the Gamecock defense will keep this relatively low scoring while the offense will get the balance needed for the school's fourth bowl win.

Line: South Carolina -7 ... CFN Prediction: South Carolina 27 ... Houston 17