ATLANTA -- South Carolina already has a stellar 2010 season in the bank, secure at some sports vault back in Columbia where the SEC East championship banner outshines the other football trinkets.

Tonight's Chick-fil-A Bowl means more to Florida State, a former power clawing up another step toward the kind of national fame lost in Bobby Bowden's winter.

Of course, Steve Spurrier disagrees.

"It's probably more meaningful to us since we've only had one 10-win season (1984) in the history of our school," Spurrier said Thursday at a Georgia Dome news conference featuring the two head coaches. "They've had a bunch of them. … Coach Bowden in (a stretch of) 14 years there won at least 10 every year."

That's just it.

Many Seminoles fans forget that fitness guru Richard Simmons graduated from Florida State, but they still have one foot planted in the Bowden glory years.

That astonishing 14-year streak from 1987-2000 might not be duplicated again in college football: A top five final ranking every single year with two national titles.

'Right direction'

But just one 10-win season since, in 2003.

First-year head coach Jimbo Fisher appears to have Florida State headed in the right direction.

He snagged the ACC Atlantic Division title away from Clemson with a 16-13 victory in Tallahassee the same November night South Carolina won the SEC East crown in Gainesville.

Florida State pounded Florida, 31-7, before falling to 9-4 with a 44-33 loss to Virginia Tech in the ACC championship game.

Recruiting coordinator Dameyune Craig, the former Auburn quarterback, is stocking up on talent. ESPN has Florida State's incoming class ranked No. 3 nationally behind Texas and Alabama.

Florida State's sophomore quarterback EJ Manuel is 4-2 as a starter, including last year's Gator Bowl win over West Virginia.

"We're going in the right direction," Fisher said. "Any year you have double-digit wins, I think it really kind of separates you a little bit from some of the other programs in the country."

For No. 23 Florida State, a loss means finishing out of the top 25 for the fourth time in five seasons.

A win might serve as another way to gain a recruiting edge, with the Sunshine State coaching changes at Florida and Miami.

No telling

For No. 19 South Carolina, a big part of tonight's drama within the game will be the closely watched effort of everyone in the program after a 31-10 loss to Iowa at the Outback Bowl two seasons ago and a 20-7 loss to Connecticut at the Papajohns.com Bowl last December.

Everyone says the vibe is different.

But no one stood up in Tampa or Birmingham and said, "You know, our attitude stinks and I'm not sure we're ready to play."

Trying to read the minds of college-aged men is often dangerous.

"No, I can't really sense what's going to happen," Spurrier said. "As coaches, we probably do about the same thing every week trying to get them ready to play, and some weeks it seems we play a lot better for whatever reason.

"We don't have the magic answer why one week we play extremely well compared to the next."

Fisher glanced over at Spurrier as the veteran head coach was talking. All the first-year head coach could do was smile and nod and hope.

Reach Gene Sapakoff at gsapakoff@postandcourier.com or 937-5593.