The bowl bump was real.
South Carolina’s football team finished with the second-most votes of any team not in the final AP Top 25, earning 46. Washington had 84, and No. 25 Memphis had 119.
Playoff teams Alabama, Georgia, Oklahoma and Clemson were the top four in that order. Undefeated Central Florida was sixth, but received four first-place votes.
The Gamecocks had received no AP votes and only four coaches poll votes after an 8-4 regular season that saw them sneak into the College Football Playoff rankings one week.
That was before a 26-19 comeback upset of Jim Harbaugh’s Michigan Wolverines in the Outback Bowl. Five teams with nine wins made the final rankings, including an N.C. State team the Gamecocks knocked off in the opener.
The Gamecocks return quarterback Jake Bentley, most of their offensive skill players and, likely, injured star wide receiver Deebo Samuel back.
For all that, ESPN put the Gamecocks in its Way-Too-Early Top 25 at No. 25. This was after Sporting News put them 23rd. USC was not in USA Today or SBNation’s too-early Top 25s, though Athlon listed South Carolina in “other teams to watch.”
“The Gamecocks were dramatically improved in coach Will Muschamp's second season, which ended with a come-from-behind 26-19 victory over Michigan in the Outback Bowl,” ESPN’s Mark Schlabach wrote. “Muschamp seems to have learned from his mistakes in his first head-coaching stop at Florida; he dismissed offensive coordinator Kurt Roper after the South Carolina offense averaged only 24 points per game.
“Co-offensive coordinator/receivers coach Bryan McClendon will take over the job full-time after calling plays in the bowl game.”