COLUMBIA -- Among the things Steve Spurrier has to be thankful about this holiday season is an eligible team.

South Carolina had a banner semester in the classroom. Unlike a year ago, at least behaviorally, the Gamecocks will be at full strength come Jan. 2 in Birmingham, Ala.

"We're OK," Spurrier said Tuesday. "Yeah, everybody passed enough hours. I think we only had one player that passed six hours, and he was a walk-on that you've never heard of."

Spurrier was a proud papa talking about his team's grades.

"That's the first time in my coaching career that we had more walk-on guys under a 2.0 (GPA) than scholarship guys," he said. "You ever heard of that?"

Spurrier even had to give some informal pep talks to non-scholarship players. They count for (or against) USC's team GPA, too.

"We like to brag about our team GPA in recruiting," Spurrier said.

Specifically, Spurrier highlighted sophomore cornerback Akeem Auguste's performance this semester.

Auguste wasn't initially admitted to USC because he didn't qualify academically. Along with teammates Eric Baker and Antonio Allen (both of whom are still here, also), he spent a semester at Fork Union prep in Virginia.

"Akeem Auguste made about a 3.5 last semester," Spurrier said. "That's pretty good for a kid that didn't qualify out of high school."

All-America linebacker Eric Norwood might be the Gamecocks' best classroom success story.

He was lightly recruited out of high school because programs considered him an academic liability. Norwood very narrowly got into South Carolina.

Beyond being a record-setter on the field, Norwood earned a degree in criminal justice in 3 1/2 years.

Beware of Huskies

Spurrier said Wednesday that the Gamecocks plan to kick to Connecticut's return men.

Kick coverage has been a special teams sore spot for South Carolina, which allowed two kick returns for scores and several other long returns.

And returns have become a regular thing for the Huskies, who brought back three kicks or punts for a score in the team's final four regular season games.

Cornerback Robert McClain returned a punt 87 yards for a score in the 47-45 loss at Cincinnati, running back Jordan Todman took a kick 96 yards for a touchdown in the 33-30 victory at Notre Dame and receiver Mike Lang had an 80-yard kickoff return for a score in a 56-31 victory against Syracuse.

"Their coach has already mentioned, 'We're going to need to score on special teams to help win the game,' " Spurrier said, referring to UConn coach Randy Edsall. "Hopefully someday we can have that attitude around here that we're going to score on special teams. We don't do it very well."

Extra points

LT Jarriel King sprained his ankle Tuesday. "He should be OK by the bowl game," Spurrier said. ... DT Nate Pepper is wearing a cast over his hand because he broke a finger earlier in the year. He doesn't plan to wear it during the bowl game. ... The team broke Wednesday for Christmas. Players are expected back Sunday for then what Spurrier calls "a normal week" of practice, since the game is on a Saturday.