COLUMBIA -- Kenny McKinley, Ryan Succop and nine other South Carolina football players are set to do something special.
When they take the field in the Outback Bowl on New Year's Day, they will be the first Gamecocks to play in three bowl games.
The Gamecocks played in the Independence Bowl in 2005 and the Liberty Bowl in 2006.
This will be USC's 14th bowl, and the first time it has gone to three bowls in a four-year span.
The only other span that comes close is 1984-1988, when the Gamecocks appeared in three bowls -- The Gator in '84 and '87, and the Liberty in '88. But a study of the media guide doesn't turn up any players who played in all three bowls.
Steve Spurrier will tie Jim Carlen and Joe Morrison for the most bowl appearances (three) by a South Carolina coach. Morrison was the coach during the above span, while Carlen went to the Tangerine in 1975, the Hall of Fame in '79 and the Gator in '80.
The 11 players who are set to appear in their third bowl are McKinley (a receiver), Succop (a kicker), tailbacks Mike Davis and Bobby Wallace, defensive linemen Jordin Lindsey and Nate Pepper, offensive linemen Justin Sorensen and Jamon Meredith, linebacker Marvin Sapp, and cornerbacks Carlos Thomas and Stoney Woodson.
Six other players were on the team for all three bowl seasons but for various reasons did not play in one or both of the previous games.
Then there's Pepper, whose medical redshirt last season puts him in position to stand alone. Assuming he plays in the Outback, then plays in another bowl next year for the Gamecocks, he will have been in four.
"That's surprising to me. I never knew that," Pepper said.
Sorensen, when told of his upcoming special status, made another point.
"The worst thing is I've been (bowl) eligible every year I've been here," the fifth-year senior said.
Last year's team reached the six-win mark but was passed over, and the 2004 team took itself out of consideration after the brawl with Clemson.
In fairness to previous eras, there are more bowls now. Under the current system, a fifth-year senior for the Gamecocks in 1976 might have appeared in three bowls. Or take the span from 1987-90, when the Gamecocks had four consecutive winning seasons.
But to Sorensen, what he and some of his teammates are set to do does say something about where the program has come.
"They try and say we haven't been doing that well, but I think we've steadily improved. We have gone to three bowl games in the last five, and Spurrier's had winning seasons every time he's been here," Sorensen said.
"The program's definitely on the rise. We're competitive with everybody, and we're having great recruiting classes, which is giving us even more of a chance to be successful."
BACK IN A BOWL
How South Carolina has fared over the last few seasons:
2008: 7-5; face Iowa in Outback Bowl on Jan. 1
2007: 6-6; did not make a bowl
2006: 8-5; beat Houston 44-36 in Liberty Bowl
2005: 7-5; lost to Missouri 38-31 in Independence Bowl
2004: 6-5; declined bowl bids