COLUMBIA — With no SEC championship game appearance this week, South Carolina now must sit and wait for a postseason bowl invitation.
After a wild, wacky and unpredictable weekend in college football, the Gamecocks’ list of possible destinations likely narrowed to three — the Capital One, Outback or Cotton Bowl.
South Carolina had hoped to reach its first BCS bowl this season, but that dream likely ended when Alabama lost to Auburn. The SEC will send its maximum two teams to the BCS, with the SEC championship game winner between Auburn and Missouri heading to the Sugar Bowl or BCS championship game, and the Tide taking the second spot.
Conversely, with 10 wins, there likely is no chance South Carolina falls to the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Last week, Chick-fil-A Bowl CEO Gary Stokan told The Post and Courier he did not expect the Gamecocks to be available if they beat Clemson.
“A Capital One or an Outback, I think, would select them before us,” Stokan said.
Since 2006, 23 SEC teams have been at least 10-2. Only last year’s LSU squad fell to the Chick-fil-A Bowl with double-digit wins on its record. That was only because the SEC had six teams with at least 10 victories, ensuring one would play its bowl game in Atlanta.
So, that’s where South Carolina’s target window likely falls — below the BCS, but above the Chick-fil-A. It leaves three possible bowl destinations. Here are some thoughts the Capital One, Outback and Cotton Bowl shared last week with The Post and Courier.
Capital One Bowl
Why South Carolina: Last week, Capital One Bowl CEO Steve Hogan identified five primary factors his organization uses when selecting which team to invite: ranking, overall record, head-to-head matchups, how a team finished the season and interest among fan base and program.
With those criteria as a measuring guide, South Carolina fits the Capital One Bowl’s profile almost perfectly. The Gamecocks are a 10-win team, something Hogan said is attractive. They’ve beaten two top-10 opponents in the past five games, including Clemson on Saturday.
Hogan said last week the outcome of USC’s game against its heated rival would be “a heck of an important factor” in whether it receives an invite, but that’s not all. Head-to-head matchups also matter, something that could give USC the edge over Missouri, which it beat Oct. 26.
Perhaps the most important thing to the Capital One Bowl is television ratings. This is ABC’s 1 p.m. timeslot on New Year’s Day, leading into the Rose Bowl. ABC needs an attractive appetizer before The Granddaddy of Them All.
“You’ve already got a victory over a highly ranked Missouri football team down the stretch,” Hogan said. “Really, the only loss was to a ranked Georgia team, and Tennessee was one probably they’d like to have back. For the most part, you’d have a 10-2 South Carolina team that won a huge game to close out the season. To me, that’s the kind of team you want to focus on for sure.
“Any time you can have them, I think you’d be proud to have them.”
Why not South Carolina: The fifth and final factor Hogan listed, which is arguably most important. Do fans really want to go to Florida — again — this year? The Gamecocks have played bowl games in Florida the past two years. Are they up for another trip? It’s a question the Capital One Bowl must answer.
Why South Carolina: The Outback Bowl is harder to read than most. When asked last week how many teams his bowl was considering, CEO Jim McVay answered “about all of them.” Taken literally, that’s most assuredly not true. There’s a big difference between South Carolina, Missouri and Mississippi State.
Give credit for being as vague as possible. Still, McVay was kind enough to confirm “about all of them” includes South Carolina. Simply because of its record, USC will be considered for a bowl that traditionally gets the first pick of SEC East teams after the Capital One.
“South Carolina is very attractive,” McVay said. “They have some outstanding players, they’re highly ranked and they can play with anybody in the country. They just can.”
Why not South Carolina: Tampa fatigue. No bowl is as familiar with the Gamecocks. South Carolina has been to the Outback Bowl four times since 2001. Of course, that could work more as a negative than benefit. South Carolina was there last year, and it’s far from certain the fan base would pack Columbia Metropolitan Airport for another chance to fly to Tampa.
McVay said there would be no reservation from the Outback Bowl to invite South Carolina for a second straight year, if USC is deemed to be the best option. Remember, the Gamecocks went to consecutive Outback Bowls in 2001-02, beating Ohio State both years.
Why South Carolina: Cotton Bowl CEO Rick Baker told The Post and Courier last week there is genuine interest in South Carolina.
Despite playing in the SEC East, the Cotton Bowl wants to host Steve Spurrier for the first time. It also believes USC fans would travel well to the Dallas area. Baker noted there are affordable, direct flights to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, which makes for an easy trip.
Baker also said having South Carolina in the Cotton Bowl would be a good way to close out the BCS cycle. The Cotton Bowl will rotate as a national semifinal game in the new playoff system, starting next fall.
“You always want to end a cycle with a great matchup and with a lot of storylines and a lot of excitement and something new,” Baker said. “The fact that we’ve never had South Carolina, there’s not a lot of schools in the SEC that we haven’t had.”
Why not South Carolina: The Cotton Bowl has invited eight straight teams from the SEC West. Baker admitted his bowl “tends to lean on” the Western Division. Geography is one reason, but Baker insists the biggest is where his bowl falls in the SEC’s pecking order.
If the Cotton Bowl wants to invite an SEC East team, it must wait for the Capital One and Outback bowls to extend their invitations. Conversely, the Cotton gets its first pick of SEC West teams, behind the Capital One and ahead of the Outback. The West has been so good over the years — the undisputed best division in the country — it’s made little sense for the Cotton Bowl to hang around for an SEC East team.
Baker said he wants a chance. He senses this year could be a “legitimate opportunity” to host an Eastern Division team. He’ll have a lot of history to overcome.
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