Why Duke’s Mayo Bowl is extra excited for South Carolina-North Carolina matchup

·4 min read
Robert Willett/rwillett@newsobserver.com

Danny Morrison has kept his fingers crossed all week. That’s all he could do.

The executive director of the Duke’s Mayo Bowl and the former athletic director at TCU, Morrison had hoped over the last seven days that his group might be able to land a pair of regional teams in the annual matchup of ACC and SEC foes.

Sunday, he got his wish.

After a season’s-worth of prognosticating, South Carolina (6-6, 3-5 SEC) and North Carolina (6-6, 3-5 ACC) were officially announced as Duke’s Mayo Bowl participants. It’ll mark the first time USC and UNC have met in a bowl game.

“There’s an excitement around the South Carolina program and certainly that’s been evident throughout the season,” Morrison told The State on Sunday. “Shane Beamer and his staff have done a great job of continuing to improve the program and, of course, a bowl game is another step in a positive direction for South Carolina.”

That Morrison and his team at the Charlotte Sports Foundation — which organizes the Duke’s Mayo Bowl, among other sporting events in the Queen City — landed the squads they wanted is as much luck as anything.

The bowl matching system is a lottery of sorts. Bowls give conferences their three preferences, while schools give leagues their preferred postseason games. The conferences then play matchmaker.

Word trickled out early last week that South Carolina would prefer to stay close to home. Charlotte made sense given its short drive from Columbia, large USC alumni base and the Gamecocks’ recent history playing neutral-site games in the city.

“All you got to do is look back to the last couple of (Belk College Football Kickoff Game) games that we’ve had here featuring in North Carolina and South Carolina,” Morrison said. “Both of the games have been close games decided in the very final minutes of the game. So we expect a highly competitive games with two programs that have had a rivalry for a long time.”

With the matchup between North Carolina and South Carolina, Morrison added the head coaches at each school brings with them their own varying storylines to monitor throughout the bowl season.

Mack Brown has been a fixture in college football for decades. His first run at North Carolina brought the Tar Heels to unforeseen heights on the gridiron. Brown is also perhaps best remembered as the man who guided Texas to its most recent stretch of dominance. Now back in Chapel Hill at 70 years old, Brown has reinvigorated the North Carolina program once more.

Then, of course, there’s Shane Beamer. The son of Virginia Tech legend Frank Beamer, Shane, too, has breathed new life into the program in Columbia. Beamer carried the Gamecocks to six wins this fall after combining for that many victories over the two season prior. South Carolina is also on pace for a top 25 recruiting class and has quickly built a foundation to work toward the not-so-distant glory days of the Steve Spurrier era.

“We’ve got a Hall of Fame coach (in Mack Brown) and we’ve got a great young coach in Shane Beamer,” Morrison said. “There’s a lot of respect from Coach Brown and Frank Beamer number one, and also a lot of respect with Shane Beamer and Mack Brown. I think that’s an interesting dynamic in the game — Hall of Fame coach with a young coach who has done a terrific job in with the South Carolina program.”

Now that the matchup is settled, the rest is fun. Morrison said participants will get a Belk shopping spree, a chance to attend a Charlotte Hornets game and simulate the speeds NASCAR drivers endure at Charlotte Motor Speedway, among other varying activities leading up the contest.

North Carolina will enter the contest looking to salvage a winning season after it started the year ranked No. 10 in the preseason Associated Press Top 25 poll.

For Beamer and his squad, the game later this month is a chance to put one final positive bow on a first year filled with ebbs and flows.

As for Morrison, he can breathe easy. He got his teams.

2021 Duke’s Mayo Bowl details

Who: South Carolina (6-6) vs North Carolina (6-6)

When: 11:30 a.m. Thursday, Dec. 30

Where: Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, NC

TV: ESPN

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