South Carolina, a school that went to eight bowl games in the first 100 years it fielded a football team, suddenly is picky about its holiday schedule.
At least its fans are.
The Florida sun twinkling off stacks of credit card offers and fried onion coupons no longer catches the eye of the discerning Gamecock.
Free chicken sandwiches from Chick-fil-A? Please. That’s so 2010.
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The Gamecock Nation is looking west and batting its collective eyes at the Cotton Bowl. Sixty-eight percent of South Carolina fans want to play their postseason game in Dallas, according to a poll taken Monday on GoGamecocks.com. (But only 28 percent think they actually will get that bowl bid.)
The appeal of the Cotton Bowl is clear. It is played in AT&T Stadium — better known as “Jerry World” in honor of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones — a state-of-the-art facility that includes the world’s largest column-free interior space and fourth-largest video board. The Gamecocks never have played in the Cotton Bowl, which would match them against a Big 12 opponent, something that hasn’t happened since 1984.
The football team’s equipment staff (Twitter account @GamecockEquip) is ready for the 1,000-mile drive.
“ATTCottonBowl I think our equipment truck would look great parked outside of AT&T Stadium! Just sayin... #JerrysWorld #SEC #Gamecocks,” was posted on the account Monday morning.
USC administrators began having conversations with bowl representatives Sunday, athletics director Ray Tanner said, and those conversations will continue throughout the week. Tanner stressed no decisions have been made on the Gamecocks’ bowl destination.
“We have been to Florida quite a bit, and the Cotton Bowl is a great bowl. It’s an intriguing situation that could develop,” Tanner said. “There are some scenarios that may play out for us to be there, but our experience with the Capital One Bowl was really great. I am comfortable that we will be in an outstanding bowl.”
Bowl bids won’t be issued until Sunday, and while the Cotton Bowl is a possibility, it’s not the most likely one, and it’s probably not in the top two. The No. 8 Gamecocks (10-2) look like a comfortable fit for the Capital One Bowl, which is the SEC’s most prestigious non-BCS bowl. If the Capital One were to take Auburn or Missouri as the SEC championship game loser, both of whom would have the same number of losses as South Carolina in that scenario, it could kick the Gamecocks down to the Outback Bowl.
“We are looking at the same chart you are looking at, and we don’t know,” Outback Bowl president Jim McVay said. “Until the conference championship games are played and the BCS bowl games are populated, we don’t know. We are like all the other bowls in that we have to hurry up and wait. South Carolina is an excellent football team, but there is a process and a protocol with the conference, with the other bowls, with the BCS.”
Another trip to the Outback Bowl wouldn’t generate much excitement among fans who have seen South Carolina play four times in Tampa, Fla., since 2001. There is little chance South Carolina would fall below the Outback Bowl to the Chick-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta, although the school and many of its fans might choose a trip to the Georgia Dome in place of another Outback Bowl.
Then there’s the Cotton Bowl, which is played Jan. 3. A Cotton Bowl invitation to an SEC East team is the Bigfoot of bowl bids, always rumored but never quite coming into sight. The last time an SEC East team played in Dallas was 2005 (Tennessee), and it has happened four times since 1977.
LSU (9-3) looks like the easiest pick for the Cotton Bowl, but the Tigers have played three times in Jerry World in the past three years, including in two Cotton Bowls. So how about a swap that would give everybody a change of scenery? Anything is possible, McVay said.
“Inventory can go in any direction,” he said. “You have to go back and forth with what makes the most sense with the conference office. Anything can happen. That’s why it’s so tricky. I don’t know what the Cotton Bowl is thinking.”
The Cotton Bowl’s representatives didn’t return messages seeking comment Monday. Not that conversations with bowl officials are enlightening the first week of December.
“Anybody that tells you they know (what will happen) is probably trying to fool you,” McVay said.
Capital One Bowl CEO Steve Hogan is the one man who could shine significant light on the situation, but he’s not ready to tip his hand, saying only that his bowl will choose between the SEC championship game loser, South Carolina and LSU. The Gamecocks’ head-to-head win against Missouri would be a major factor in that decision, he said.
“We have not made the final decision, but we have had discussions,” Hogan said. “South Carolina is high on our list and they deserve to be. They are very deserving (of) a New Year’s Day appearance.”
The fact that South Carolina could be the only team in the country with three wins this season over BCS bowl teams (if UCF and Clemson receive bids as expected and Missouri wins the SEC) should strengthen the Gamecocks’ profile. The fact certainly sticks in the craw of Gamecock fans as they are left to elbow their way through the economy class of the bowl lineup while teams they beat stretch their legs in the first class glow of more television exposure and bigger goodie bags.
“That’s the way that it shakes out,” Tanner said. “We’ll be in a good place.”
The order in which bowls pick SEC teams and our projected teams (assuming: 1. Auburn wins the SEC; 2.There is no SEC team in the BCS Championship Game; 3. Alabama goes to the Orange Bowl as a BCS at-large pick):
... SUGAR BOWL: New Orleans, Jan. 2 - Auburn (11-1)
... CAPITAL ONE BOWL: Orlando, Jan. 1 - South Carolina (10-2)
... OUTBACK BOWL: Tampa, Jan. 1 - Missouri (11-1)
... COTTON BOWL: Arlington, Tex., Jan. 1 - LSU (9-3)
... CHICK-FIL-A BOWL: Atlanta, Dec. 31 - Texas A&M (8-4)
... GATOR BOWL: Jacksonville, Jan. 1 - Georgia (8-4)
... MUSIC CITY: Nashville, Dec. 30 - Ole Miss (7-5)
... LIBERTY: Memphis, Dec. 31 - Vanderbilt (8-4)
... COMPASS BOWL: Birmingham, Ala., Jan. 4 - Mississippi State (6-6)
... INDEPENDENCE BOWL: Shreveport, La., Dec. 31 - No eligible SEC team remaining
Outside bowl projections for USC
... ESPN's Mark Schlabach and Brad Edwards: Both predict Capital One Bowl, vs. Wisconsin
... Phil Steele: Capital One Bowl, vs. Wisconsin
... ESPN SEC blog: Outback Bowl (no opponent given)
... CBS/Jerry Palm: Outback Bowl, vs. Iowa
... Orlando Sentinel: Outback Bowl, vs. Iowa
... SB Nation: Outback Bowl, vs. Iowa
... College Football News: Outback Bowl, vs. Iowa
... Sports Illustrated: Chick-fil-A Bowl, vs. Miami