South Carolina's football team will try to polish off a magical, history-making season just up the road from Disney World. As expected, the Capital One Bowl picked the Gamecocks to play Nebraska in the Jan. 2 game at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Fla.
USC (10-2) is aiming for its first ever 11-win season. The Gamecocks would have accomplished that in 1984 -- the only other time they won 10 games -- but they settled for 10-2 after losing to ninth-ranked Oklahoma State in the Gator Bowl, when USC was ranked No. 7.
"Our team has a lot to play for," said USC coach Steve Spurrier.
The Gamecocks ended the regular season ranked No. 10 in The Associated Press poll -- the first time they finished the regular season in the top 10 since 1987, when they went 8-4. That year was also the last time the Gamecocks played Nebraska. They lost 30-21 in Lincoln. They also lost their two other meetings with the Cornhuskers, in 1964 and 1986.
This year's Nebraska team -- led by fourth-year coach Bo Pelini, the former defensive coordinator at LSU -- went 9-3 and 5-3 in its inaugural season in the Big Ten. The Cornhuskers closed the year 2-2, losing to Northwestern (which finished 6-6) and at Michigan (which went 10-2). Nebraska's other loss was at Wisconsin, which went 11-2 and won the Big Ten championship game. The Cornhuskers are ranked No. 21.
The Capital One Bowl was formerly known as the Citrus Bowl. Spurrier, when he coached at Florida, once quipped that "you can't spell Citrus without 'UT,' " in reference to Tennessee having to settle for playing in the game rather than a more prestigious bowl. The Volunteers played in the Citrus Bowl after the 1993, 1995 and 1996 seasons. Of course, Florida played in the Citrus Bowl after the 1997 season, a year after the Gators won the national title.
Even though the bowl no longer uses the title that inspired Spurrier's remark, you technically can't spell Citrus without "USC" either. USC has played in this game once before, in 1975, when it was called the Tangerine Bowl. The Gamecocks lost to Miami (Ohio).
Not that the Gamecocks are disappointed about playing in this bowl. Far from it. It is not only an opportunity to win more games than any other USC team ever has, it is also a chance for Spurrier to improve his bowl game fortunes with the Gamecocks. Since coming to USC in 2005, he is 1-4 in bowls, with three straight losses. USC is 4-12 all time in bowls.
Spurrier doesn't have fond memories of his only meeting with Nebraska -- the Fiesta Bowl after the 1995 season, which was the national title game. The Cornhuskers beat previously undefeated Florida 62-24. Spurrier still remembers the exact score of the game, and also that his 1995 team was one of the best he had while at Florida. But, he said, "We ran into one of the best teams in, probably, college football history that night."
The 2011 Cornhuskers aren't as dominant as that team was. But typical of Nebraska teams, they have a running back who is plenty capable: junior Rex Burkhead. He has 260 carries for 1,268 yards and 15 touchdowns this season. In Nebraska's last game, a win over Iowa, he had 38 carries for 160 yards and a touchdown. His 105.7 yards per game rank No. 21 nationally.
USC's roster should be at full strength for the bowl. Spurrier said wide receiver Alshon Jeffery and right guard Terrence Campbell are expected to play. Jeffery had surgery to repair a broken hand - an injury sustained in USC's last game, a win over Clemson. Campbell cracked his fibula in that game.
Both played significant roles in the Gamecocks winning six Southeastern Conference games and going undefeated against the league's East Division for the first time. Now, they and the Gamecocks have one final game to make some more history.
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