South Carolina is headed to a bowl game. That much was learned Saturday evening when the Gamecocks beat Western Carolina 44-31 in Williams-Brice Stadium to earn their sixth victory of the season and the postseason eligibility that goes along with that threshold.
Now, the question is: Where?
The Southeastern Conference has tie-ins with 10 bowl games, and also is expected to earn one spot in the College Football Playoff. The playoff spot, likely in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, is expected to be taken by Alabama, which is a three-touchdown favorite over Florida in the SEC Championship Game, which will be played Dec. 3 in Atlanta.
In non-playoff bowl games, the possible destinations for an SEC team range from the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans at the top of the prestige scale to the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La., at the bottom.
At the moment, the Gamecocks are near the bottom of that scale, meaning the Independence Bowl, the Birmingham (Ala.) Bowl, the Liberty Bowl in Memphis, Tenn., or the Belk Bowl in Charlotte appear to be the most likely options.
An upset of No. 4 Clemson on Saturday in Clemson, would open another level of possibilities for the Gamecocks, but the final destination wasn’t the biggest concern for South Carolina’s players and coach immediately after their last win.
“We needed to get to a bowl game,” first-year coach Will Muschamp said after his team beat the Catamounts. “That was really important for us as a program. Just really proud of the guys.”
The Gamecocks started the season 2-4, but have won four of their past five games.
“Coach came in after we went 2-4 and he just preached, ‘Take it one game at a time,’ and I think that’s what we’ve done, coming out and playing hard in games, lot of effort and toughness,” sophomore tight end Hayden Hurst said. “Coach’s biggest thing this year has been taking everything one game at a time, and I think we’ve done that tremendously. It’s put us in the position that we are in today.”
The Gamecocks had a bye week in the middle of the season and used the extra time to insert true freshman quarterback Jake Bentley as the team’s starter. Bentley now has a 4-1 career record after the Western Carolina game.
“In the bye week, we came together as a team,” offensive lineman Mason Zandi said. “That’s one thing I can say about this team, nobody points fingers at one another. Nobody says, ‘Oh, woe is me.’ We get after it every single week and we prepare the right way. I am incredibly proud to be on this team.”
South Carolina went to a school-record seven consecutive bowl games under Steve Spurrier, but missed a bowl game last year as Spurrier’s final team finished 3-9.
“Going to a bowl game is huge,” junior linebacker Bryson Allen-Williams said. “It took a lot for the team to come together. We are not done yet.”