ATLANTA -- And so a compelling football season has come to this, South Carolina Gamecock fans huddling where they left off earlier this month, many with nice new sweaters.

Chick-fil-A Bowl reps want a "regular or spicy" argument, but Gamecockologists in hotel lobbies downtown and at Brazilian steak places in Buckhead prefer the tastier topic: If No. 19 South Carolina defeats No. 23 Florida State on Friday at the Georgia Dome to notch its 10th victory, is this the best football team in school history?

Some of the best news about the "Best South Carolina team" debate is the apparent focus upgrade after bowl debacles against Iowa and Connecticut the last two years.

"We're not really worried about anything that's happened in the past, just this year," quarterback Stephen Garcia said.

"We've had our ups and we've also had our downs. We're just trying to get to 10 wins and win our bowl game."

Do that and The Year of the Gamecock goes out with a bang louder than any legally purchased fireworks. For, yes, the 2010 team can rightfully stake its claim to No. 1 in school history -- even if the numbers don't say so.

Final rankings

No question, South Carolina has to beat Florida State for the 2010 Gamecocks to get seriously into the fray. If victorious, South Carolina likely will finish with an Associated Press final ranking between 15 and 17.

For some, the relative comparison is simple, based on final AP polls:

--No. 11 in 1984 (10-2 record).

--No. 13 in 2001 (9-3).

--No. 15 in 1987 (8-4).

--No. 19 in 2000 (8-4).

--Unranked in 1969 (7-4 but ACC champions).

Fine, take 1984.

A great year for George Orwell, Mary Lou Retton, the Detroit Tigers and the Gamecocks' "Black Magic" autumn.

But adjusted for eye-test and degree of difficulty, the real list of best Gamecocks teams should fall into a slightly different order on New Year's morning if South Carolina wins the night before.

Tougher road

--1. 2010

Wins vs. final AP Top 25: No. 15 Alabama will remain in the final poll, win or lose against Michigan State; No. 23 Florida State will drop out with a loss to USC.

Losses vs. final AP top 25: No. 1 Auburn won't drop below No. 3 and the Gamecocks had to face Cam Newton twice; Arkansas currently is No. 8.

Even in a down year, the SEC is rigorous. It's a closed case if not for that second-half collapse at Kentucky.

But just barely over ...

--2. 1987

Wins vs. final AP top 20 (the AP expanded its poll to 25 teams in 1989): No. 12 Clemson.

Losses vs. final AP top 20: No. 1 Miami, No. 5 LSU, No. 6 Nebraska, No. 13 Georgia.

Three losses on the road, all by nine points or less, and to LSU (30-13) at the Gator Bowl.

The addition of a 12th regular season game probably would have given the 1987 team a ninth win, though probably not impacted its final ranking as you can figure most major college teams would have added pastry to the schedule if given a chance.

--3. 1984

Wins vs. final AP top 20: No. 17 Florida State.

Losses to final AP top 20: No. 7 Oklahoma State.

No. 2 and 9-0 before losing at Navy. Again, 11 wins with a 12th regular season game.

--4. 2000

Wins vs. final AP top 25: No. 20 Georgia.

Losses vs. final AP top 25: No. 10, Florida, No. 16 Clemson, No. 24 Mississippi State.

The first of two straight Lou Holtz teams to defeat Ohio State in the Outback Bowl gets extra credit for bouncing back from 0-11 the year before.

--5. 2001

Wins vs. final AP top 25: No. 22 Georgia.

Losses vs. final AP top 25: No. 3 Florida, No. 4 Tennessee.

Beat Clemson after losing at Death Valley in 2000.

--6. 1969

Wins vs. final AP top 20: None.

Losses vs. final AP top 20: No. 15 Tennessee, No. 17 West Virginia.

A 6-0 ACC record and still the only conference championship banner at Williams-Brice Stadium.

Same debate next year?

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