ND FOOTBALL: Irish to play South Carolina in Gator Bowl

Dec. 4—No. 21 Notre Dame (8-4) will take on No. 19 South Carolina (8-4) in the Gator Bowl on Friday, Dec. 30 in Jacksonville, Fla. Game time is set for 3:30 p.m.

"I can't tell you how excited we are to play in the Gator Bowl," Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman said. "We're playing a great opponent in South Carolina. We're all college football fans, as am I, and to see what they've done to finish off their season is remarkable."

"We're extremely excited to be in the Gator Bowl," South Carolina coach Shane Beamer added. "Our fans, I know, are ecstatic about this opportunity. Our athletic director was telling me about the ticket sales already ... we're really excited about a fantastic bowl, but obviously a lot of those ticket sales have to do with who we're playing."

After starting the season 3-3 — which included losses to woeful Marshall and Stanford — the Fighting Irish won five of their final six games, including over then-No. 4 Clemson.

One player Notre Dame won't be with for the bowl game is quarterback Drew Pyne, who announced Friday that he is entering the transfer portal.

Tyler Buchner, who started the first two games of the season for Notre Dame before injuring his shoulder, is expected to start at quarterback. Freeman gave an update on his quarterback situation Sunday night.

"We still have three quarterbacks on the roster: you have Tyler Buchner, Steve Angeli and Ron Powlus III," Freeman said. "All have been practicing the past two days that we've practiced. Could see any of the three play. They'll all be ready to play."

When asked to further clarify if Buchner is 100% healthy, Freeman remarked, "Yeah, he's full-go."

Freeman also discussed the process that led to Pyne entering the transfer portal.

"You hate to see him and leave and enter the portal," Freeman said. "As I told him in our meeting, what he's done for our program — the ability to step in at the end of week two against Marshall and throughout the season — he did a tremendous job.

"We had a conversation this week, myself and Drew along with several other players that we have on our team, in terms of our intentions and my intentions at certain positions. I'm always looking for ways to enhance our roster, and I always want to be upfront and honest. I was with Drew and told him we'd possibly take a look at taking a transfer quarterback. I did not want him to leave, but he made the decision to enter the portal and I certainly respect his decision."

Also affecting Notre Dame's roster could be players opting out from playing the bowl game. Junior tight end Michael Mayer and senior defensive end Isaiah Foskey project to be first round picks in the NFL Draft this upcoming spring, therefore they might not want to risk injury in the bowl game.

Freeman said nothing definitive has been decided on Mayer and Foskey's bowl game status, but he plans on a decision being made early this upcoming week.

"We've had individual meetings all week," Freeman said. "That's one of the nice things of having these four days of a dead period, it's to meet with your guys and talk about the roster and make plans as the head coach."

The Irish will play a South Carolina team that finished the season with back-to-back wins over top-10 opponents in Tennessee and Clemson. Like Notre Dame, though, they've had their share of head scratching losses, including against Florida and Missouri in SEC play.

"Both of us started off 1-2, if I'm not mistaken, and we've both rebounded to get where we are right now," Beamer said. "Two good teams, and I have a ton of respect for coach Freeman and his staff and the job they've done this year as well."

It's the fifth all time meeting between Notre Dame and South Carolina, but the first since 1984. The Irish hold a 3-1 series lead, getting wins in 1976, 1979 and 1983. The Gamecocks won in 1984.

Austin Hough can be reached at austin.hough@goshennews.com or at 574-538-2360. Follow him on Twitter at @AustinHoughTGN.