COLUMBIA -- South Carolina's past two bowl experiences haven't been positive ones. The Gamecocks, looking to tie a school record with their 10th victory of the season, are hopeful the Dec. 31 Chick-fil-A Bowl against Florida State signals a change of course.
Here are five objectives for USC during the bowl season, which begins in earnest today as the team returns to the practice field.
1) Repair (or try, at least) the pass defense
Yeah, yeah. You've heard this one. Again and again. The 2010 season has been a broken record in terms of the secondary's struggles, and the SEC title game -- giving up a season-high 335 passing yards to Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton -- was one of the low points.
The Gamecocks are ranked 107th in the country in passing defense, giving up 253.6 yards a game through the air.
What do you do at this point, if you're secondary coach Lorenzo Ward? Good question. Making sure your guys are prepared for Florida State's speed is probably a good starting point. Stephon Gilmore, particularly, would love to shake off that SEC title game showing.
2) Get Marcus going again
After a dominating 212-yard, three-touchdown performance against Florida, Lattimore was really pretty quiet against Clemson and Auburn. He barely had 100 combined yards (132) in those games, and no touchdowns.
It seemed, after Florida, that Lattimore would have a legitimate chance at Shaun Alexander's SEC record of 24 total touchdowns. Now he's just trying for one more, to tie Reggie Cobb's freshman record of 20.
Lattimore has had a sensational freshman season -- no question about that -- but he'd love to finish off the season with a strong showing. The line needs to help Lattimore as well.
3) More acclimation for Elliott, O-line
In the summer months, the story of this season was to be the offensive line's progress. It figured to be the one area, more than any other, that could potentially hold the team back from success. Who knew that, in reality, it would be the secondary?
The line hasn't been terrific this season, but it hasn't been a major concern, either. There's no question that Shawn Elliott has this group moving in the correct direction. Elliott admitted in August that this was more than a one-season project. So, having this time, in addition to spring 2011, is very important in terms of continuity. The Gamecocks will return three starters, so long as guard Rok Watkins comes back. That leaves a couple of openings for younger players such as A.J. Cann and Ronald Patrick. This is a good month for those guys.
4) Tweak the process
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier has alluded to some changes he'd like to make in the bowl preparation schedule. There will be fewer practices -- only 11 scheduled -- leading into the game; that's one. Spurrier has declined to specify any additional changes, so far.
Given the team's recent postseason history, some changes make sense. Let's say next season goes extremely well, and South Carolina is playing in a BCS bowl. Maybe some of the rituals from this month could then pay off next December, by being incorporated in preparation of a bigger game. Spurrier still needs to figure out the right motivational buttons for the Gamecocks when it comes to bowls.
5) A win on Dec. 31 equals a win in February?
This is sort of an obvious one. But South Carolina hasn't been able to ride a bowl win into the recruiting season.
The Gamecocks have done just fine the past two seasons, and they figure to be in good shape to land prospect Jadeveon Clowney. But another faceplant, and maybe Clowney thinks twice. If you're South Carolina, you obviously don't want to give him -- or any other commits and recruits -- anything to think about. Instead, how about a little positive pub heading into 2011? That'd be a change, right?