COLUMBIA — After cracking the top 10 in the BCS standings Sunday, South Carolina firmly put itself in the conversation for a big-time bowl game.
It’s still early, and there are plenty more dominoes that must fall in place, but the Gamecocks could reach the Sugar Bowl for the first time in program history. Of course, there’s a catch.
USC may have a better chance of reaching its first BCS bowl if it avoids the SEC Championship Game and a matchup with top-ranked Alabama.
Junior spur Sharrod Golightly wouldn’t even entertain the thought.
“I don’t even really know how the bowl projections break down,” Golightly said. “They’re too tough. I think we’re really just aiming for the SEC (championship). That’s first things first. If we handle our business throughout the season and accomplish our goals, we’ll be in a good position.”
So, the goal is making it to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game. Whatever happens after that — the good or bad — is a byproduct USC will happily accept.
Of course, Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier isn’t looking that far ahead. Not with his team’s final SEC game — a 7 p.m. home kickoff Saturday against Florida — coming up at the end of the week.
“We’re just going to talk about trying to play our best this week,” Spurrier said. “Whatever happens within the division happens. But we are going to try to play our best against the Florida Gators when they come in.
“We have a lot more goals than the Eastern Division. We’ve got a chance to win six conference games again. We’ve got a chance to do a lot of good stuff around here. So we’ll let all that other stuff just play its way out, and hopefully we can play our best game here at 7 p.m.”
Shaw sheds knee brace
Senior quarterback Connor Shaw has recovered from a sprained knee he suffered at Tennessee and played through in USC’s past two games against Missouri and Mississippi State.
Shaw was able to practice Monday night without a knee brace. Spurrier said he expects his quarterback to play without the brace Saturday against Florida.
Without the cumbersome brace, Shaw could return to his usual, dual-threat style. Shaw hasn’t been as affective running the football, with 10 carries for minus-24 yards in his past two games. On the season, Shaw has 375 rushing yards on 103 carries.
“Obviously, our last game, we were pretty sad on third-down conversions. Connor didn’t run for any like he usually does,” Spurrier said. “But maybe he can run like his old self this game. We don’t know yet, until we go play.
“Certainly, that has been a positive factor in making a lot of third downs. He’d take off and run for them. We didn’t do that any in the last game.”
Clowney, Davis rested
South Carolina took advantage of its final bye week of the season, resting star defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, running back Mike Davis and cornerback Victor Hampton.
On Monday, a new game week began. That meant it was time for the Gamecocks’ stars to return to practice.
“Jadeveon was running last night,” Spurrier said. “He and Victor Hampton and Mike Davis all missed most of practice during the open date, as did a few other guys just making sure sprains, sore muscles and injuries would heal up. He didn’t do much last week, but neither did Mike Davis and a few other players.”
Spurrier said all three are expected to play Saturday.
Gamecocks have captains
South Carolina also used the open date to vote for team captains for the remainder of the season.
Spurrier said Shaw, guard A.J. Cann, defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles and defensive end Chaz Sutoton were voted as captains by the team. He said Hampton, Sharrod Golightly, receiver Bruce Ellington and guard Ronald Patrick also received “a whole bunch of votes,” so they were named “co-captains.”
“We’ve got eight guys who have really done a good job, I think, providing leadership throughout the course of the season, which hopefully will continue through the remainder of the season,” Spurrier said.