South Carolina played in a New Year's Day bowl game last season in a warm-weather city on Florida's Gulf coast.
Yet, the Gamecocks will take more fans to Birmingham, Ala., for next month's Papajohns.com Bowl than they did to the Outback Bowl in Tampa, Fla.
Never underestimate the power of a win against your rival.
Boosted by its 34-17 victory against Clemson, USC has sold nearly all of its 10,000-ticket allotment for the Jan. 2 Papajohns.com game against Connecticut at historic Legion Field.
Never miss a local story.
As of Wednesday evening, USC had sold 9,260 tickets - a total that includes 1,359 purchased by the athletics department and allocated to the band, university trustees, staff and players.
Besides the Clemson win, officials say Birmingham's proximity to Columbia (a 5 1/2-hour drive on I-20) and the game's Saturday date have helped spur sales.
"I think there are several factors that are making it a good time and a good opportunity for our fans to travel to Birmingham," USC deputy athletics director Marcy Girton said. "We're excited about it."
The excitement among Gamecock fans was missing last year after USC ended the regular season with lopsided losses to Florida and Clemson. The school sold 8,626 of its 11,000-ticket Outback allotment, including 1,342 tickets for internal use.
Girton, who came to USC from TCU, expects the school to fulfill its Papajohns.com ticket requirement before the holidays.
"When you ended the season on a high note, I think that facilitates the interest in the bowl," Girton said.
Bo Kerr, sales and marketing manager for the Papajohns.com Bowl, said the bowl has sold about 2,000 to 3,000 tickets to USC fans. Although those tickets do not count toward the Gamecocks' allotment, they add to a USC fan base that Kerr believes will reach 15,000 on game day.
"I think you'll have some Gamecock fans that make a last-minute decision to jump in the car and drive to Birmingham," Kerr said.
Girton said the 2 p.m. start time allows fans the option to return to South Carolina after the game.
Connecticut has sold or allocated 3,500 of its 10,000-ticket allotment, according to UConn sports information director Mike Enright. The Huskies took about 4,500 fans to Notre Dame last month, and officials wonder whether the trip to South Bend might have exhausted fans' travel budgets.
Kerr said bowl officials have sold about 18,000 tickets locally and hope to attract a crowd of 40,000-plus. Such a turnout would break the attendance record for the 4-year-old bowl, set last year when 36,387 watched Rutgers beat N.C. State 29-23.
"Given the economy and some of the economic challenges we're facing, we feel really good about the position we're in," Kerr said.
The way Legion Field is configured for the bowl - with tarps covering the seats in both end zones - capacity is 55,000 at the stadium that used to host the annual Iron Bowl between Alabama and Auburn.
Fans from the two schools are seated in the east stands - separated by a 10-yard buffer of premium seats near midfield that go to the bowl's corporate sponsors. Tickets bought through the bowl are in the west stands.
ESPN, which owns the bowl, uses the east stands as the backdrop for its primary camera. Kerr hopes nice weather - it was sunny and 62 degrees at kickoff for last year's game - will help put fans in the stands throughout the stadium.
"We hope that we'll finish strong, and with the potential of some good weather have a good walk-up on game day."