COLUMBIA - Steve Spurrier had envisioned his team playing in Atlanta on Saturday afternoon. He thought South Carolina was a "team of destiny," on the path to its second SEC championship game appearance.
Instead, the Gamecocks are stuck at home, but they'll pay close attention.
"I'll watch all the games Saturday, all the conference championship games," Spurrier said earlier this week. "They're really important. They're fun to watch because there's a championship on the line."
No. 5 Missouri will meet No. 3 Auburn at 4 p.m. Saturday in the Georgia Dome to play for the SEC championship. For the third straight year, a team USC beat during the regular season went on to win the Eastern Division and a shot at the title.
South Carolina beat Mizzou, 27-24, in double overtime on the final weekend of October, the Tigers' only loss this fall.
Even with the Gamecocks left out of the title bout, there is plenty on the line. USC's bowl destination likely hinges on which team wins the SEC title. A Missouri victory would likely send the Gamecocks to the Cotton Bowl, while an Auburn win is expected to send USC to the Capital One Bowl.
The Post and Courier was first to report the Cotton Bowl's interest in the Gamecocks early last week. Earlier this week, Spurrier said he's interested in a holiday trip to Dallas.
"That would be a trip that would probably be at the top of our list, if we had a choice," Spurrier told The Post and Courier. "The Capital One Bowl is an excellent bowl, there's no question about that. If they send us there, that would be fine also. But, because I've never coached it - and I've coached about all the rest of them - certainly if I had my choice that would be where I think our team would like to go. And I think most of our fans would like to go to the Cotton Bowl. So we'll see where it plays out, I guess."
The Cotton Bowl has invited eight straight SEC West teams, but it is intrigued by the possibility of hosting Spurrier for the first time. Spurrier feels the same way, especially if he's able to compete against good friend and Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops.
Spurrier made sure to give credit to the Capital One Bowl on Thursday night during his call-in radio show. He called the game one of the best bowl experiences in the country, and lauded the central Florida weather. It would be USC's second trip to Orlando this season, and an easier trip than a flight to Dallas.
The Cotton Bowl would like to invite South Carolina, but it's unsure whether the Gamecocks will be available. The Capital One Bowl selects immediately after BCS teams are taken, before the Cotton Bowl.
The Outback Bowl is unlikely to select South Carolina, which played in that game last year and four times since 2001.
Wherever South Carolina winds up, it will be sitting at home this weekend waiting to find out.
"If it works out (in Dallas), that would be fine," Spurrier said. "But if it doesn't work out, then we'll be fired up to go to Orlando, Tampa (Outback Bowl) or wherever they send us."
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