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USC, SEC bowl picture still murky

University of South Carolina WR 81 Tori Gurley hauls in a 14 yard touchdown pass against Clemson University in the second half at Williams-Brice Stadium on Saturday. South Carolina won 34-17.
University of South Carolina WR 81 Tori Gurley hauls in a 14 yard touchdown pass against Clemson University in the second half at Williams-Brice Stadium on Saturday. South Carolina won 34-17. The State

South Carolina's name did not come up last week when the Music City Bowl's selection committee discussed possible SEC teams.

But after a wild weekend that saw USC and Georgia upset ACC division winners Clemson and Georgia Tech, respectively, a lot of the conference's bowl partners have gone back to the drawing board.

"It's not making the decision any easier given South Carolina's and Georgia's wins this week," Music City president Scott Ramsey said Monday.

The top half of the SEC's bowl picture looks pretty clear. The winner of Saturday's SEC championship game between No. 1 Florida and No. 2 Alabama will play in the BCS title game, with the loser headed to the Sugar Bowl.

LSU looks like a lock for the Capital One Bowl, while Mississippi coach Houston Nutt told Monday that the Rebels are going to the Cotton Bowl for the second consecutive year.

After that it gets murkier for the middle of the SEC, which features six 7-5 teams jockeying for position for the league's bowl spots in Tampa, Fla.; Atlanta, Nashville, Tenn.; Memphis, Tenn.; Shreveport, La., and Birmingham, Ala.

The SEC bowl lineup will be announced Sunday after the BCS bowls are set. SEC spokesman Charles Bloom said the conference's bowl partners could announce their picks earlier if the BCS guarantees a spot for the Florida-Alabama loser, although that is considered unlikely.

Chick-fil-A Bowl officials are confident USC fans would be excited about the school's first appearance in the Atlanta-based bowl in 40 years, especially after the Gamecocks' win against their state rivals.

But USC's path to the Georgia Dome could be blocked by Georgia, which finished 4-4 in the conference - a game ahead of USC - and beat the Gamecocks 41-37 in September.

Chick-fil-A officials are not opposed to having local teams in their game. Georgia Tech stayed in Atlanta last year to face LSU in the Dec. 31 bowl; Georgia has played in the Chick-fil-A (formerly the Peach) three times since 1995.

Chick-fil-A Bowl president Gary Stokan said he would not make a decision based on which team would fill the most hotel rooms. He also said he would not be influenced by any perceived political pressure to keep Georgia close to home.

"We try to go through a process that really focuses on who deserves to be playing in our game," Stokan said. "If you do that every year, you have some integrity in our process."

The Chick-fil-A's choice of its ACC team could affect which SEC team goes to Atlanta. Stokan said he would not consider a rematch between teams that met in the regular season.

So if the Chick-fil-A decides it wants Clemson should the Tigers lose Saturday in the ACC title game, USC would be out; likewise for Georgia in the unlikely scenario the Chick-fil-A selects Georgia Tech for the second year in a row.

Many bowl observers believe the Chick-fil-A is eyeing No. 11 Virginia Tech, the ACC's top-ranked team.

Stokan said USC has a lot working in its favor: an excited fan base in close proximity to Atlanta, a well-known coach in Steve Spurrier and a number of Georgia natives on its roster, including Butkus Award candidate Eric Norwood.

"You put it all together, South Carolina's got a great bowl resume, certainly," Stokan said.

If USC does not go to Atlanta, the Gamecocks could drop to the Bowl, which gets the last SEC selection.

The thinking is the Liberty and Independence bowls will go with West Division schools Arkansas and Auburn, respectively, whose fans will not have as far to travel. Ramsey said travel also is a concern for Music City officials with the game moving to Dec. 27, which is a Sunday.

With the bowl kicking off two days after Christmas, Ramsey said several committee members favor selecting a team that is within a half-day's drive of Nashville. That would include Kentucky, whose campus is about three hours from Nashville.

The Wildcats played in the Music City two of the past three years. But Ramsey said that would not discourage the bowl from considering the Wildcats, who brought a lot of fans to Nashville both years.

USC athletics director Eric Hyman spent part of Monday talking to bowl directors and others involved in the SEC bowl selection process. Hyman said whichever bowl selects the Gamecocks will be getting an energized program.

"I think people look at South Carolina as having great karma and ending the season on such a huge positive note with a convincing win against a great football team," Hyman said. "There's so much energy at the University of South Carolina, you've got to factor that into the decision-making process."

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