COLUMBIA -- Clemson benefited from a strange play just before halftime Saturday.
The No. 21 Tigers were driving with a 17-7 lead when Cullen Harper hit Brian Linthicum for a short gain. Linthicum tumbled over with the catch and lost the ball, which was scooped up by South Carolina's Carlos Thomas and carried on a 67-yard sprint.
The ecstatic Gamecocks prepared to start a possession on Clemson's 8-yard line, but officials reversed the decision, ruling Linthicum's knee was down on the catch. Video footage confirmed the ruling and although Clemson got the ball back, Mark Buchholz missed a 35-yard field goal wide right on the last play of the half.
• SO LONG: USC honored its 21 seniors before kickoff by having each player jog out to a solo ovation, joining his family/friends on the field.
Andy Boyd, Cory Boyd, Casper Brinkley, Ryan Brown, Web Brown, Jeremy Burgess, Marcus Davis, Ty Erving, Leon Gamble, Chris Hampton, Thomas Hooper, Brandon Isaac, Blake Mitchell, Robert Pavlovic, Joel Reaves, Lanard Stafford, James Thompson, Ranzino Valentine, Cody Wells, Mike West and Greg Wright bid farewell to Williams-Brice Stadium.
Coach Steve Spurrier mentioned earlier this week that he was proud of his seniors, but the future set up well for the Gamecocks. Of the 21, only the two Boyds, Brinkley, Web Brown, Hampton, Isaac, Mitchell, Stafford and Wells started and/or played the majority of games. Brown will be a huge hole to fill at center but the other spots at least have experienced players behind them.
• BOWL UPDATE: Nothing will be decided until the conference championship games are played next week, but an early look at the bowl situation could leave USC in a perilous position.
Ten SEC teams are bowl-eligible and there's a fight among the lower seeds for the last spot. USC (6-5) and Alabama (6-5) were trying to one-up each other with wins Saturday, the Gamecocks playing Clemson and the Crimson Tide in their annual Iron Bowl matchup with Auburn.
Tennessee (9-3) and LSU (10-2) will play for the SEC championship with the winner getting an automatic BCS berth. Should Tennessee win, it's possible LSU could snag a second BCS berth, but the Tigers did themselves no favors by losing to Arkansas on Friday.
Georgia (10-2), Florida (9-4), Kentucky (7-5), Auburn (7-4 before Saturday), Arkansas (8-4) and Mississippi State (7-5) are eligible and must be selected before any six-win teams. If USC and Alabama were to win Saturday, there'd be a logjam of seven-win teams but everyone would be feeling a lot more comfortable.
The SEC's remaining seven bowl tie-ins after the BCS selections are, in order: Capital One, Outback, Chick-fil-A, Cotton, Liberty, Music City and Independence. If the BCS selects two SEC teams, only one team gets left behind and has a much better chance of snagging one of the unfilled bowl slots from another conference.
But if the BCS only takes the SEC champion and two teams are seeking at-large spots, the situation could leave someone hanging. USC and Alabama each needed to win Saturday to increase the likelihood of a bowl, since a seven-win SEC team would be almost impossible to leave out. A six-win team could lose out to a seven-win team from another conference.
USC gained one favor when Vanderbilt lost to Wake Forest, leaving the Commodores at 5-7 and not eligible. But other upsets around the country gave the bowls close to their maximum number of bowl-eligible teams, which leaves USC seeking some help.
• WHAT?: No, that wasn't a mistake. That was 5-foot-8 true freshman Addison Williams covering Clemson's 6-5 Aaron Kelly.
Williams was pressed into service after starting corner Captain Munnerlyn was negated for the year with a sprained foot. He beat out Thomas for the job, but it was still curious to see him covering Kelly, the ACC's second-leading receiver.
Perhaps Clemson quarterback Harper saw something he didn't like in the matchup. Kelly only had one 12-yard catch in the first half.
• LOOK AT THAT: The best arm on the field in the first half didn't belong to Harper or Blake Mitchell. Back judge Barry Hendon earned that distinction.
After C.J. Spiller took a reverse for 19 yards, he headed for the sideline under pressure from USC's Melvin Ingram. Ingram shoved Spiller after he was two steps over the boundary, which didn't earn a flag from the side judge but one from Hendon.
Hendon tossed his hankie a good 20 yards into the fray, placing it on the exact spot of the foul.
• THE RETURN: USC Sports Information Director Emeritus Tom Price was in attendance, marking a return to the rivalry. Price, the longtime SID and current USC historian, missed last year's game after attending the previous 59 straight.