College Sports

Gamecocks might be headed to familiar bowl

The South Carolina game at Florida this weekend could be the first of two trips to the Sunshine State for the Gamecocks.

With two regular-season games remaining, USC (7-3) is in position to earn its first Florida bowl trip in seven years.

Outback Bowl officials have scouted USC the past two weekends and have a good history with the Gamecocks, whose fans filled up Tampa-area hotels and restaurants when USC beat Ohio State in back-to-back Outback appearances after the 2000 and 2001 regular seasons.

"Do we feel very strong about South Carolina and their football team and whole package? Absolutely. It's a very strong program," Outback president Jim McVay said Wednesday. "They're winning. The passion of the fans is spectacular. I think they'd be attractive to anyone."

The Outback, which pits an SEC team against a Big Ten school on New Year's Day, has the first pick of remaining SEC East teams after the BCS and Capital One bowls make their selections.

Most college football analysts expect Florida and Alabama, which will meet in the SEC championship game on Dec. 6, to earn BCS spots, leaving the Capital One to pick Georgia.

In all likelihood, the Outback then would select from among No. 24 USC, 19th-ranked LSU (6-3) and Kentucky (6-4), which lost to the Gamecocks in Lexington on Oct. 11. LSU won the head-to-head matchup with USC 24-17 a week later.

McVay says his bowl will consider LSU, although the Outback has not taken a Western Division team since Alabama played Michigan in 1997.

The Gamecocks could potentially play their way into another New Year's Day bowl in Florida by winning out against Florida and Clemson.

Capital One executive director Steve Hogan said a 9-3 USC team would be in the mix for the Orlando-based bowl. Of course, beating Florida could knock the Gators out of BCS contention and give the Gamecocks another team to compete with for the coveted Florida bowl spots.

But Gamecocks center Garrett Anderson said defeating the third-ranked Gators is more important than worrying about bowl positioning.

"We're going to go in there and give 'em everything we've got," Anderson said. "I think it's better to have beaten a team that should have won the national championship than having a nice bowl."

Another option for the Gamecocks could be the Chick-fil-A Bowl. USC has not played in the Atlanta-based bowl, formerly the Peach, in 40 years.

But the Chick-fil-A makes its SEC pick after the Outback, and most observers in the Tampa area, including the Tampa Tribune, do not expect McVay to pass on the Gamecocks.

A 7-5 finish could muddy the waters for the Gamecocks, although the Outback has taken seven-win teams previously, including Lou Holtz's 7-4 USC squad in 2000.

McVay was the marketing director for the Tampa Bay Bandits when Steve Spurrier was the coach of Tampa's USFL franchise. McVay is familiar with Gamecocks quarterback Stephen Garcia, who starred at Tampa's Jefferson High.

"Those are wonderful storylines in a four-hour game," McVay said, "if that happens."

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