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USC cracks top 25; bowl picture update

USC’s 34-21 victory over Arkansas vaulted the Gamecocks back into the national rankings at No. 24 and 23 in the Associated Press and USA Today coaches’ polls, respectively.

Though the Gamecocks have yet to beat a ranked team, they have won four of their past five SEC games — and the voters took notice.

For anyone who might be interested, here’s what my AP ballot looked like this week:

Nov. 91. Alabama2. Texas Tech3. Florida4. Texas5. Oklahoma6. Southern Cal7. Utah8. Boise State9. Penn State10. Ohio State11. Missouri12. Georgia13. BYU14. Oklahoma State15. North Carolina16. Ball State17. Michigan State18. TCU19. Florida State20. LSU21. Pittsburgh22. Cincinnati23. South Carolina24. Tulsa25. California

***************************************************As far as the Gamecocks’ bowl picture, USC media relations director Steve Fink posed an interesting question last night while he was waiting for the, ahem, stragglers to clear out of the press box:

Would beating Florida hurt USC’s chances of landing a New Year’s Day bowl bid by potentially damaging the Gators’ hopes for a BCS bowl berth?

Most college football experts have been working under the assumption that both Florida and Alabama will claim BCS spots — with the SEC champion playing in the national championship game and the runner-up going to the Sugar Bowl.

But what if the Gamecocks hand the Gators a second loss, and Urban Meyer and Co. go on to pick up a third loss (either against Florida State or in the SEC championship game vs. Alabama)?

Would a three-loss Florida team, assuming the Gators are not conference champions, be deserving of a BCS at-large berth ahead of a second non-BCS school (Boise State or Utah), a two-loss Big Ten team (Ohio State, Michigan State or Penn State) or a two-loss Georgia team that was drilled by the Gators?

It makes for an interesting discussion, but I think when the smoke clears both Alabama and Florida will snag BCS berths, leaving the Gamecocks with a clear shot to Tampa.

The Outback Bowl likes USC. The Gamecocks brought a load of people to Tampa the two years Lou Holtz’s teams earned Outback berths, and it’s been seven seasons since USC has played in the game. Plus, one of the Outback scouts I talked to seemed to like the idea of quarterback Stephen Garcia playing in his hometown.

I think if the Gamecocks get to eight wins, they’re a lock for Tampa — and might even get in with seven.

Kentucky (6-4, 2-4 SEC) appears to be the other team with a shot at the Outback. With games remaining against Vanderbilt and Tennessee, the Wildcats have a pretty good chance of getting to eight wins.

Of course, USC beat Kentucky. And while the Outback is not required to take the higher-finishing team, I have a hard time believing the men in the tan blazers from Tampa would pass on Steve Spurrier, Garcia and 30,000 Gamecock fans.