ATLANTA – For weeks, most college football pundits have predicted South Carolina would land in the Outback Bowl if it lost the SEC title game.
However, on the eve of bowl selection, the landscape appears to be shifting.
Florida, which lost to the Gamecocks 36-14 on Nov. 13 in Gainesville, Fla., might be taking that spot. South Carolina’s past three Jan. 1 bowl games have been at the Outback Bowl, which it went to in 2009, 2002 and 2001.
If the Gamecocks are not selected by the Outback Bowl, they could come back to the Georgia Dome at the end of this month. The Chick-fil-A Bowl gets the selection after the Outback Bowl and is played on Dec. 31 in Atlanta. The Chick-fil-A Bowl has announced it will take the loser of Saturday night’s ACC championship game between Virginia Tech and Florida State for one spot. Its other spot will be an SEC team.
The Chick-fil-A Bowl is not required to protect the SEC championship game loser because that team would have so recently played in Atlanta. Bowl CEO Gary Stokan told The State two weeks ago that his bowl would strongly consider South Carolina if the Gamecocks were available and would have discussions with Gamecock officials to see if they were interested in playing in the Georgia Dome in back-to-back games.
The Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla., picks after the Chick-fil-A Bowl. The Gamecocks have not played in the Gator Bowl since 1984, the last time they won 10 games in a season.
It did not take Alshon Jeffery long to make history Saturday afternoon. Jeffery caught two passes for 25 yards on the Gamecocks’ first drive, giving him 77 receptions for the year. That tied former South Carolina receiver Kenny McKinley for the most catches by a collegiate wide receiver under Steve Spurrier.
Jeffery broke the record on South Carolina’s second possession but finished the game with four catches for 36 yards, giving him 79 catches for 1,387 yards this season.
Senior Spencer Lanning had hit 10 of 11 field goals coming into the game, but missed his first two Saturday, a 51-yarder and a 42-yarder.
“Spence, I can’t remember the last time he missed two in a row,” Spurrier said. “The way we had trouble stopping them, it may not have mattered.”
It was Lanning’s first two-miss game of the season and the first time he’s missed two in a row since missing his last attempt against Tennessee and first attempt against Arkansas.
For the first time this season, the Gamecocks did not record a sack. South Carolina leads the SEC with 39 sacks, and it had several shots at Newton but never finished him off behind the line of scrimmage.
“We couldn’t get him down,” defensive tackle Travian Robertson said.
Spurrier earned himself a $100,000 bonus by getting South Carolina to Saturday’s game. He would have earned an additional $150,000 by winning Saturday’s game. Auburn coach Gene Chizik earned $100,000 for winning his side of the conference. He picked up a $200,000 bonus with the victory.
Both coaches make around $2.2 million annually.
... South Carolina replaced kickoff return specialist Bryce Sherman with D.J. Swearinger to start the second half. Sherman returned on the second kickoff of the half.
The Gamecocks entered the game having outscored opponents by 154 points in the first three quarters and by three in the fourth quarter.
With a win, Spurrier would have moved into second place in SEC titles with seven, breaking a tie with Vince Dooley and John Vaught and trailing Bear Bryant’s 14.
Defensive back C.C. Whitlock left in the second half because of a sprained ACL and didn’t return.
Defensive lineman Melvin Ingram left with a calf injury in the first half but returned after a brief rest.