South Carolina players hoped a victory against Clemson would send them to a warm-weather bowl destination.
They might have to settle for a climate-controlled setting.
USC's 34-17 win against Clemson on Saturday kept the Gamecocks in the hunt for a berth in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, played Dec. 31 against an ACC opponent at the Georgia Dome in downtown Atlanta.
The bowl, formerly known as the Peach, has a number of 7-5 teams to choose from. But the Gamecocks have the benefit of closing the regular season with a win.
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Chick-fil-A scout Art Gregory said "there would be a lot of sentiment for a team that just finished with a victory over its archrival."
Gregory is the brother of former Gamecocks player Johnny Gregory, so he knows the importance of the Clemson game to USC fans.
Georgia (7-5) won its rivalry game against Georgia Tech, 30-24, on Saturday night to remain in the Chick-fil-A mix. And though Auburn (7-5) dropped its rivalry game to No. 2 Alabama 26-21, Gregory said the Tigers played well enough to remain in the running for a Chick-fil-A bid.
If USC slips past the Chick-fil-A, the Gamecocks could wind up in the Music City, Independence or Papajohns.com bowls. USC coach Steve Spurrier said he had "no idea" where his team will land.
"I think some of the guys wanted it to be a warm-weather site," he said. "I don't know where it's going to be. All sites are pretty warm this time of year."
The question about whether USC would kick to C.J. Spiller was answered on the opening kickoff. The Gamecocks did - twice - and the explosive senior made them pay for it.
USC dropped Spiller after a 20-yard return on Adam Yates' first kick, but the Gamecocks were offsides. Spurrier said Yates was supposed to hit a line drive on the re-kick but sent an end-over-end boot directly to Spiller, who cut left and raced untouched for an 88-yard touchdown return.
It was his seventh career kickoff return for a touchdown, an NCAA record.
"They said all week they were going to kick it to us, and kickoff return took that to heart," Spiller said. "When you go in the paper and call us out, we're going to do the best we can to execute."
"Nothing good happens after a re-kick. I should've known better," USC special teams coordinator Shane Beamer said. "Our guys were tired after running downfield."
Spencer Lanning, the Gamecocks' place-kicker and punter, took over kickoff duties as USC used pop-ups and squibs the rest of the game. Spiller, who had a stomach ailment, had a 14-yard runback on his only other kickoff return.
After going four games without a turnover, the Gamecocks came away with three against Clemson and won the turnover battle 3-2. Senior linebacker Eric Norwood and freshman cornerback Stephon Gilmore recovered fumbles, while freshman safety DeVonte Holloman had a 54-yard interception return to set up a touchdown.
"I guess our freshmen are going to have to teach the older guys how to do it," assistant head coach for defense Ellis Johnson said.
See you in Indy
Norwood hugged Clemson tailback C.J. Spiller after the game and wished the senior well.
"I just told him it's been great playing against him, go out there and get healthy. Train for the (NFL) combine good and do what he do," Norwood said.
In his final home game, Norwood had five tackles, including one for loss.
Don't blame him
USC's Antonio Allen had a head-scratching moment when he tried to pick up the ball on Dawson Zimmerman's 13-yard punt, only to fumble and let Clemson retain possession at its 27-yard line.
It turns out Allen was following orders from the sideline.
"I was actually telling him to pick it up because it was such a short punt. He just fell into it," Spurrier said. "He's on defense. We need to get him over there and do our offensive fumble recovery."
Tight end Weslye Saunders, a junior who had touchdowns on his only two receptions, said he was "pretty much set on coming back" for his senior season. ... The Gamecocks' 34 points were their most against Clemson since a 34-31 victory in 1996, and their most at home against the Tigers since a 56-20 win in 1975.