USC seeking 10-win season, chance at bowl redemption
ATLANTA -- South Carolina's coaches and players, for the better part of the month, have generally refused to look back. They haven't talked much about what kind of season it's been, even considering great moments of success, because they're not yet ready to define it.
By the stroke of 2011, they will be prepared for such thoughts. By then, the Gamecocks will either become the second 10-win team in the school's history or they will have lost the final two games of the season -- in the same building.
No. 19 South Carolina (9-4) and No. 23 Florida State (9-4) meet in the Chick-fil-A Bowl at 7:30 tonight in the Georgia Dome.
"This has been a very good year for us thus far," USC coach Steve Spurrier said this week. "Hopefully we can finish."
South Carolina is leaning on the concept of redemption as its primary motivation.
The Gamecocks were embarrassed in their past two bowl games -- a 20-7 loss to Connecticut in last season's Papajohns.com Bowl in Birmingham, Ala., and a 31-10 loss to Iowa in the Outback Bowl in Tampa, Fla., the season before that.
Both losses felt even more lopsided. They felt, actually, like the 56-17 bruising Auburn gave the Gamecocks in the SEC title game in Atlanta in early December.
Asked what haunted the Gamecocks most about their first appearance in the SEC championship, sophomore center T.J. Johnson hung his head.
"The score," he said.
The Gamecocks believe there's a lot of proving to be done, beginning tonight.
"We need to redeem ourselves in the dome," defensive tackle Travian Robertson said.
Ten wins means something for both schools.
At Florida State, double-digit wins were the norm during Bobby Bowden's heyday in the 1990s. Defeating Spurrier and Florida was part of several of those seasons.
But Bowden's program eventually went into decline, so much that he was forced out the door a year ago.
Jimbo Fisher, a former Auburn and LSU assistant coach, seems to have gotten the Seminoles back on the preferred track. FSU played Virginia Tech in this year's ACC title game.
"It's always a standard that everyone tries to set," Fisher said of 10 victories.
Fisher credited the team's seniors, led by quarterback Christian Ponder, with the resurgence.
"They've shown us how to win again," Fisher said. "They've shown us how to work again."
South Carolina senior captain Pat DiMarco had never heard anything about the 1984 Gamecocks until this season. That team started to come up more and more as this year's team strung together positive results.
Now DiMarco and the Gamecocks have one last shot to tie that team's mark of 10 victories.
"That's a team that's been put on a pedestal around here," said DiMarco, a fullback and tight end.
Spurrier has told USC that, with a win, it has a chance to be the best team in school history. The Gamecocks defeated Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Florida and Clemson in the same season.
It is the first time since 1970 that USC has defeated Clemson in consecutive seasons. And, of course, it's the first time the Gamecocks won the SEC's Eastern Division.
"If you'd told me at the beginning of the season that we could do one or two of those things, I might have actually been satisfied," said another USC captain, kicker/punter Spencer Lanning.
Lanning rocked back and thought for a second, revising his statement. The Gamecocks aren't quite satisfied, he said, but they would be with one more victory.
"We've got an excellent opportunity to go out on a high note," Lanning said. "I hope we can."
A victory, especially relative to the past two thuds in bowl games, would give USC a good deal of momentum heading into 2011. The Gamecocks already figure to be prohibitive favorites to repeat in the division.
With a victory, and considering what it returns, USC could conceivably begin next season in the top 10.
"The future," said another USC captain, defensive end Cliff Matthews, "looks bright around here. I can't wait to see what they do."
Matthews and South Car-olina's other seniors can start tonight by building a bridge to that future.