BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - A lot of people have talked this week about what a bowl win would mean for South Carolina's 2010 season.
But USC coach Steve Spurrier is not ready to turn the page on the current season yet.
As he sat between senior captains Eric Norwood and Moe Brown at a Papajohns.com Bowl press conference, Spurrier refused to let the discussion extend beyond today's game against Connecticut.
"This is part of this season," Spurrier said. "Eric and Moe, they're not going to be here next season. So they've got one more game."
After season-ending skids the past two years, the Gamecocks began this season focused on finishing what they started. USC was headed into another downward spiral when it lost three consecutive games to Tennessee, Arkansas and Florida.
But after playing the top-ranked Gators tough, the Gamecocks ripped Clemson 34-17 in their most complete game of the year. And though it has been five weeks since the Clemson win, USC players hope to ride the momentum into the Papajohns.com Bowl matchup featuring a pair of 7-5 teams.
"It would mean a lot as far as finishing," Norwood said. "That's really what we've been preaching since we started up in January, just finishing everything we do."
And though Spurrier did not want to discuss it, a win also could serve as a springboard to what could be a big 2010 season. The Gamecocks lose only six starters and return their leading passer (quarterback Stephen Garcia), receiver (Alshon Jeffery) and their three top rushers (Kenny Miles, Brian Maddox and Jarvis Giles).
Not to mention eight starters on a defense that finished the regular season third in the SEC behind No. 1 Alabama and fifth-ranked Florida.
"It definitely could be a special year next year," Maddox said. "Just try to go out and just build for next year. We've got to go out and play hard and win. We've gotta win. Have to."
ESPN announcer and former Heisman Trophy winner Andre Ware, who will serve as color analyst on today's broadcast, believes USC could be part of a power shift in the SEC next season.
Besides Alabama and Florida, Ware expects USC and Tennessee to challenge in the East, and Arkansas and LSU to be in the mix in the West. Ware said the key for the Gamecocks would be its offensive line and the continued development of Garcia.
"With the way Stephen's played and really matured as a quarterback, they're a team that's really going to be reckoned with next season," Ware said.
In his first full season as a starter, Garcia cut back on his interceptions and ill-advised throws. The redshirt sophomore finished the regular season as the SEC's second-leading passer behind Arkansas' Ryan Mallett but ahead of Florida's Tim Tebow and Mississippi's Jevan Snead - the top two quarterbacks on the preseason all-conference teams.
Garcia gets a chance at redemption after a miserable showing in the Outback Bowl last season in his hometown of Tampa. Garcia had turnovers on USC's first four series and was benched in favor of Chris Smelley in the 31-10 loss to Iowa.
Garcia will take his shots against a Huskies' secondary that ranks last in the Big East and near the bottom nationally at defending the pass. USC quarterbacks coach G.A. Mangus expects Garcia to play well.
"Here a year later, he's obviously a much better player, a much more comfortable player. Nobody wants to play better (today) than Stephen," Mangus said. "I look for him to have a real good one."
Garcia has tried to take a more serious approach to this bowl game. He fit in a round of golf in Tampa and angered Spurrier by playing video games rather than studying his game plan the night before the Outback.
Garcia seems to understand the importance of beating UConn.
"Three hundred sixty-six days later, it'd be huge for me," he said. "But overall it'd be better for the team."
The current one and next season's.