Notre Dame, South Carolina have holes to fill in Gator Bowl

TaxSlayer Gator Bowl: No. 19 Notre Dame (8-4, No. 21 CFP) vs No. 20 South Carolina (8-4, No. 19 CFP), Dec. 30, 3:30 p.m. Eastern (ESPN).

FANDUEL SPORTSBOOK COLLEGE LINE: Notre Dame by 3 ½.

Series record: Notre Dame leads 3-1.

WHAT’S AT STAKE

Notre Dame is trying to avoid ending its season like it started: with back-to-back losses. The Fighting Irish won five in a row before falling to Southern Cal 38-27 in the regular-season finale. South Carolina, which closed the regular season by stunning then No. 5 Tennessee and then-No. 7 Clemson, is looking to knock off three consecutive ranked teams for the first time in school history.

KEY MATCHUP

Notre Dame’s Audric Estimé and Logan Diggs versus the second-worst rushing defense in the Southeastern Conference. The Gamecocks allowed nearly 200 yards a game on the ground this season, and the Irish likely will rely on Estimé (825 yards, 11 TDs) and Diggs (732 yards, 3 TDs) since QB Tyler Buchner (non-throwing shoulder) is returning after missing 10 games.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Notre Dame: Buchner, a sophomore who injured his left shoulder in a loss to Marshall in early September, returned to practice last month and is expected to make his third career start. Buchner replaces Drew Pyne, who is transferring to Arizona State after going 8-2 as the starter.

South Carolina: QB Spencer Rattler ended the regular season on a high note. He completed 72% of his passes for 798 yards, with eight touchdowns with two interceptions, in wins against Tennessee and Clemson.

FACTS & FIGURES

The first meeting between these schools since 1984 will be missing key players on both sides. Notre Dame All-American TE Michael Mayer and DE Isaiah Foskey, the school’s all-time leader in sacks, opted out of the bowl to prepare for the NFL draft. CB Cam Hart is sidelined with a shoulder injury. South Carolina will be without its two leading rushers (MarShawn Lloyd and Jaheim Bell) as well as WR Josh Vann, TE Austin Stogner, DL Zacch Pickens, CB Cam Smith, DB Devonni Reed and TE Traevon Kenion. … South Carolina and Notre Dame handed Clemson its only losses this season. … College Football Hall of Famer Lou Holtz coached both Notre Dame and South Carolina. He led the Irish from 1986-96 and then came out or retirement in 1999 to take the reins at South Carolina. … Irish coach Marcus Freeman is 0-2 with lengthy layoffs, losing last year’s bowl game and this year’s season opener. … The Gamecocks are looking to finish the season ranked for the first time since they were No. 4 at the end of the 2013 season.

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