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USC fans are ticket masters

There are no beaches in Birmingham. But there will be plenty of South Carolina fans in Alabama's biggest city for the Papajohns.com Bowl next weekend.

A year after a slumping economy and late-season losses to Florida and Clemson hurt ticket sales for the Outback Bowl, USC sold out of its 10,000-ticket allotment to the Jan. 2 game against Connecticut, the school announced Tuesday.

USC also received an additional 250 tickets through the ESPN-owned bowl to complete its orders. The school's total includes 1,359 purchased by the athletics department and allocated to the band, university trustees, staff and players.

Fans interested in buying tickets the next week and a half should purchase them through the bowl, media relations director Steve Fink said.

A Papajohns.com official said last week USC fans had bought between 2,000 and 3,000 tickets through the bowl. UConn had sold 3,500 tickets from its 10,000-seat allotment as of last week.

"We should have a large contingent of Gamecock fans over in Birmingham," Fink said. "Obviously, that's nice for the whole team, but especially for the seniors playing their last game."

USC officials say the Gamecocks' win against Clemson, Birmingham's proximity to Columbia and the game's Saturday date helped sales. Last year USC sold 7,284 of its 11,000-ticket allotment for the Outback Bowl in Tampa, and bought an additional 1,342 tickets for internal use.

Making the grade

For the first time in his career, USC coach Steve Spurrier's team had a semester in which more walk-on players finished with GPAs below 2.0 than did scholarship players. The only player ineligible for the bowl game is a walk-on "you never heard of," Spurrier said.

The grades of walk-ons do not count toward a team's Academic Progress Rate, the NCAA's academic yardstick that penalizes underachieving teams with the possibility of scholarship losses. But walk-ons do figure in a team's overall GPA.

"We're not going to have that again," Spurrier said. "I told some of those walk-ons, 'You've got to do better academically because you count.'"

Spurrier said he would dismiss walk-ons who "keep making 1.5s and dragging our GPAs down. We like to brag about that GPA when we go recruiting."

Spurrier was pleased with sophomore cornerback Akeem Auguste for finishing with a 3.5 in the fall. Auguste attended prep school in Virginia after failing to qualify academically out of high school.

Playing with Payne?

The future of USC signee Chris Payne remains uncertain. The former Columbia High defensive back told his coach at Fork Union (Va.) Prep that he did not plan to return after the holiday break, meaning he would have to enroll at another school to finish his academic requirements to be eligible for USC next season.

Gamecocks safety Damario Jeffery, who played with Payne at Columbia, is not sure what his former teammate will do.

"We don't really talk about academics because that's his personal situation," Jeffery said. "When we were in high school, I told him to get everything right. And I encourage him every day to get everything right so he can play with me again."

Bring it up

Spurrier is trying to convert quarterback Stephen Garcia from a sinker-ball pitcher into a more consistent passer when he throws to the right side of the field.

"Stephen Garcia's throwing the ball better. He's learning how to make a lot better throws," Spurrier said. "Trying to get rid of that sinker ball he throws to the right now and then. He hasn't thrown many of those in the last few days. That's encouraging."

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