Ron Morris

Morris: USC should embrace Music City bid

Not long after South Carolina's victory against Clemson on Saturday at Williams-Brice Stadium, Steve Spurrier took a cautionary approach to how the Gamecocks and their fans should celebrate.

"I told our guys we haven't beaten these guys a lot," Spurrier said. "I think sometimes we celebrate too much. We'll try to enjoy the win and understand it. I think when Clemson beats us, they don't celebrate wildly."

Spurrier then proclaimed himself as being a guilty party to too much celebrating following USC's most recent previous win over Clemson, in 2006. You might recall Spurrier proclaimed that win being one for all Gamecocks fans who had suffered the frustration of losing to Clemson over the years.

Spurrier said game balls would be available to all USC fans. All they had to do was bring a football by his office and he would autograph it. For all intent and purpose, that game was supposed to have been a turning point for the program.

Obviously it was not. A season later, USC was sitting at home during bowl season.

So you understand the caution on Spurrier's part this time around. He realizes a bowl-game loss virtually will wipe away all the good feelings USC has now.

It is the kind of cautionary approach USC needs to take in securing a bowl bid. It needs to consider what is best for the program and not be concerned with prestige or money.

In other words, USC needs to put blinders on all visions of grandeur, namely ones that have the Gamecocks playing in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. This is a relatively young USC team with a fragile psyche. A possible beatdown at the hands of a dangerous Virginia Tech team in Atlanta could shatter the Gamecocks' morale the entire offseason.

Instead, USC needs to face the reality that a Music City Bowl victory would do wonders for the program. USC needs to feel good about itself coming out of the bowl season, and a date in Nashville would provide that opportunity.

USC has faced this situation before. Spurrier's first USC team, in 2005, was vying with Florida to play Iowa in the Outback Bowl on New Year's Day. USC and Florida tied for second in the SEC East Division with 5-3 records, one game behind Georgia.

USC concluded the regular season with a 7-4 record, a notch below Florida's 8-3 mark. But the Gamecocks defeated Florida during the regular season, a stunning win over a team that was ranked 12th at the time.

The Outback Bowl bid went to Florida, and USC administrators and coaches were not nearly as disappointed as their fans. USC's program under Spurrier was not ready to take on a power from the Big Ten, even if it was a 7-3 Iowa team ranked No. 25.

Instead, USC headed to the Independence Bowl, where it faced a similarly up-and-coming Missouri club from the Big 12 Conference that did not receive a vote in the final regular-season Top 25 poll.

As it turned out, Florida edged Iowa in the Outback Bowl, and USC dropped a wild, 38-31 decision to Missouri in the Independence Bowl. The loss made for a long offseason for USC, but not nearly as long as it could have been with a thumping by Iowa in Tampa.

Of course, USC waited three more seasons to experience that feeling. Its fans do not want to be reminded again of what it is like for its team to step outside its boundaries in a bowl game, like USC did in a humbling 31-10 Outback Bowl pasting by Iowa on Jan. 1.

One could argue that USC could handle Virginia Tech in the Chick-fil-A Bowl based on the fact the Hokies are not even the best team from the pathetic ACC. Most coaches do not see it that way. At 9-3, Virginia Tech is the most dangerous team in the ACC. There is a reason Virginia Tech is No. 11 in The Associated Press poll and No. 12 in the BCS standings.

Besides, the potential matchups for USC in the Music City Bowl are much more intriguing. Possible opponents are North Carolina and Florida State.

A South Carolina-North Carolina game would have TV appeal. The teams played in 2007 to much fanfare. This matchup was one of the better rivalries in the region when both were members of the ACC.

A USC game against Florida State would match old rivals Spurrier and Bobby Bowden. Toss in the possibility that the game might be Bowden's finale, and the Music City Bowl would be one of the most-viewed TV games of the postseason.

Beyond all that, USC would stand an excellent chance of winning. More than the extra money and the additional prestige attached to playing in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, USC needs a bowl-game win.

The Music City Bowl affords USC the best chance to win a game and feel good about itself throughout the offseason and into the 2010 season.

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