COLUMBIA -- Steve Spurrier talked about South Carolina's most recent bowl experience for the better part of 2010.
The Gamecocks wouldn't mind if that were the case in 2011. But they'd prefer it if Spurrier had some positive subject material this time around.
The Ball Coach was moaning and groaning about the Papajohns.com Bowl loss to Connecticut until September -- into the 2010 season, even. The 20-7 loss dropped Spurrier to 1-3 in bowls at USC, including consecutive lopsided losses.
Memories of the win against Houston in the 2006 Liberty Bowl no longer feel fresh. The Gamecocks (9-4) could use some postseason success Dec. 31 against Florida State (9-4) in the Chick-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta.
"It's in the past, but surely we're not going to forget the last couple of bowl games here," South Carolina quarterbacks coach G.A. Mangus said this week. "We didn't play well and got beat."
Junior quarterback Stephen Garcia is the poster child for USC's recent bowl struggles.
He was 16 of 38 for 129 yards and an interception in the frigid Papajohns.com Bowl, finishing with a pedestrian 65 rating. At least he finished that game.
The year before, returning home to Tampa, Fla., for the Outback Bowl, Garcia was even worse. Yanked after the first half, Garcia was 9 for 18 for 79 yards and three interceptions, for a stunningly bad 53 rating.
"I felt like I was still in high school back then, to be completely honest," Garcia said this week.
Garcia declared himself "500 percent" improved from that Outback Bowl showing. With a career-high 20 touchdowns, to 11 interceptions, and 2,816 yards, Garcia has a 154 rating this season. You don't have to be a mathematician to see the improvement from his bowl blahs.
South Carolina is hopeful it's a different team this time around, in no small part because its quarterback is a different guy, in theory.
"I think we definitely have something to prove," Garcia said. "We've just got to play a lot better than we did in the last two (bowl) games. We didn't really go into the last two (bowl) games as focused and prepared as we should've been.
"That's the players' faults. The coaches tried extremely hard. … I'm going to do my part to help keep the team as focused as possible."
Motivation is so often the buzzword for bowls. It's obviously impossible to know whether the Gamecocks truly have it until the game against the Seminoles kicks off.
However, you can look for signs in the meantime, picking up on subtle and overt signs alike.
Going for a school-record- tying 10 victories has been a rallying cry, the players have said.
One team source said he could tell three practices in last year that UConn was going to skunk the Gamecocks. He said there's a different attitude and approach for this bowl game.
Facing Florida State -- a traditional power, at least throughout the players' lifetimes -- has had a way of grabbing attention.
"There's a lot of kids on the team from Florida," said Garcia, who admitted he was something of an FSU fan growing up. "I'm sure a lot of them got recruited by Florida State. I think we're looking forward to it."
Spurrier hatched an interesting, and perhaps inspiring, theory with the players when they reconvened Thursday.
He reasoned the Gamecocks defeated Georgia, which defeated Georgia Tech, so USC is the "Georgia state champs." By defeating Clemson, Spurrier said the Gamecocks are the "South Carolina state champs."
Next up: Sunshine State champs?
"Florida State beat Miami and Florida," USC safety Akeem Auguste said. "If we beat Florida State, and we already beat Florida, we'll be the Florida state champs. It's big for us, man. Guys from Florida, you know we're ready to go."
And then there's applying mouthwash to the aftertaste from Auburn bludgeoning the Gamecocks in the SEC title game -- conveniently, in the same building.
"It was, what, 55-17 against Auburn?" Auguste asked reporters.
It was 56-17.
"Everybody's got something to prove," Auguste said. "We've got a little chip on our shoulders."
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