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New Year's in Atlanta? What has to happen

Buckhead. The Virginia-Highlands. The Georgia Aquarium. Maybe a Hawks’ game at Philips Arena or ice skating in Centennial Park.

There’s a lot going on in Atlanta around the holidays, including the Chick-fil-A Bowl on New Year’s Eve, which is what many South Carolina fans have their sights on.

It’s not as simple as USC beating Clemson and punching its ticket to the Georgia Dome against an ACC opponent. The middle of the SEC is much too jumbled for a scenario that clear-cut.

But the Gamecocks have a real shot at their first Peach/Chick-fil-A berth since 1969, when the game was in its infancy and played outdoors at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.

After talking to bowl folks and others familiar with the SEC bowl selection process, here’s what they think has to happen for USC to make it to Atlanta:

1) Gamecocks beat Clemson. The Atlanta discussion ends here with a loss to the Tigers, and USC will be among the last SEC teams picked – by either the Independence or the Papajohns.com.

2) Auburn loses to Alabama. Tigers would still be 7-5 (same as USC in this scenario), but would have lost their final two games. Momentum is big to most bowl officials.

3) Georgia loses to Georgia Tech. The Chick-fil-A folks don’t mind having a local team once in a while. And though things aren’t real pleasant in Athens this week, a lot can change with a win over your rival (see No. 1 above).

That could do it. Maybe. But there are a couple of X-factors:

4) The loser of this week’s Kentucky-Tennessee game. The winner is expected to go to the Outback Bowl. But the Outback president is a Kentucky grad, and this is a bowl that often has gone against the grain in its picks.

If the Outback took Kentucky, even after a loss to Tennessee, that would put the 7-5 Vols in play for the Chick-fil-A. UT beat the Gamecocks, would have won four of its last five (in this scenario) and would bring a bunch of people to Atlanta after missing a bowl last season.

If Tennessee beats UK and gets the Outback bid, USC likely would be the Chick-fil-A’s pick over the ‘Cats.

5) What to do with LSU if the Tigers lose to Arkansas? LSU-Arky winner likely is headed to Dallas for the Cotton.

And in most years, Chick-fil-A president Gary Stokan would not pass on an 8-4 LSU team. But the Tigers were in the Chick-fil-A last year and would be dealing with an unhappy fan base if LSU drops its final two to Ole Miss (in excruciating fashion) and Arkansas. LSU probably slips to Memphis and the Liberty Bowl with an L to the Hogs.

Of course, none of this matters if USC does not take care of step 1.

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