The first cold-weather Super Bowl comes down to a classic quarterback contrast sharper than any Puppy Bowl vs. Kitten Bowl argument.
Peyton Manning (Tennessee) and Russell Wilson (N.C. State) vs. Palmetto State college teams:
Year Opponent Site Result
1994 USC Columbia Tennessee 31, USC 22
1995 USC Knoxville Tennessee 56, USC 21
1996 USC Columbia Tennessee 31, USC 14
1997 USC Knoxville Tennessee 22, USC 7
Year Opponent Site Result
2008 USC Columbia USC 34, N.C. State 0
2008 Clemson Clemson Clemson 27, N.C. State 9
2009 USC Raleigh USC 7, N.C. State 3
2009 Clemson Raleigh Clemson 43, N.C. State 23
2010 Clemson Clemson Clemson 14, N.C. State 13
Manning and Wilson
But picking between Peyton Manning's consistency and Russell Wilson's versatility isn't as hard as gaining access to Donald Trump's luxury suite at MetLife Stadium to watch the Broncos and Seahawks.
Simply refer to the pattern Manning and Wilson established when facing Palmetto State teams over separate four-year stretches.
Manning at the University of Tennessee was resourceful and undefeated against South Carolina.
Wilson at N.C. State and with minor league baseball's Asheville Tourists saw action against Clemson and South Carolina, and at Riley Park against the Charleston RiverDogs. It was up and down, even painful; Wilson was carted off the field at Williams-Brice Stadium in his very first college football game. But the potential for better days rang above the losses.
Brad Scott's Gamecocks appeared to be making progress against Manning after losing to the polished young passer and his Tennessee Volunteers, 31-22, at Columbia in 1994 and 56-21 at Knoxville in 1995.
It took two Manning touchdowns in the fourth quarter to beat South Carolina, 31-14, at Williams-Brice in 1996, his junior year.
The Gamecocks had the SEC's top-rated pass defense in 1997, and did almost everything right against Manning. He was 8-for-25 passing for only 126 yards and an interception.
But South Carolina lost quarterback Anthony Wright to a season-ending injury that day in Knoxville and Vols running back Jamal Lewis rushed for 205 yards in a 22-7 Tennessee win.
"We ran the ball and made them pay for it," Manning said after the game. "We've thrown for a lot of yards on them the last few years. They came in and said you're not going to beat us by throwing for a lot of yards. But our passing game was not as sharp as it should have been."
Scott was glad to be done with four years of Manning game plans.
"A lot of people thought Peyton would leave after his junior year," said Scott, now an assistant athletic director specializing in football recruiting at Clemson. "We did somewhat of a good job defending the pass that last time when he was a senior, and we were kind of proud of ourselves at halftime. But Peyton was just a great, great player with great attention to detail. He would take the throw that you gave him - no different than he is now."
Russell Wilson wasn't the prototype, blue-chipper with an NFL bloodline. At 5-11, the son of an attorney was a mere two-star prospect coming out of high school in Richmond, Va.
Wilson vaulted to starting quarterback as an N.C. State redshirt freshman. It was a slow start; he didn't make it to halftime in the 2008 season opener in Columbia. Wilson was running to his right when South Carolina's Jordin Lindsey and Cliff Matthews sandwiched him, knocking him unconscious. Wilson gave the thumbs-up sign on the sideline, but suffered a concussion and was taken to a Columbia hospital.
South Carolina won, 34-0.
Wilson was back on his feet for N.C. State's third game of 2008, a 27-9 loss to Clemson. Despite the early setbacks, he wound up as the first-team quarterback on the All-ACC team.
The 2009 season opened with another dud against the Gamecocks. Wilson threw for only 74 yards in an ugly 7-3 Thursday night loss in Raleigh. Later, Clemson beat Wilson and N.C. State, 43-23.
The Wolfpack cut it closer at Death Valley in 2010, Wilson's junior season. He threw for 212 yards and ran for 29 but was sacked four times in a 14-13 loss.
It was off to Wisconsin for a senior season that ended in the Rose Bowl.
Wilson led the ACC in passing touchdowns one year and the Big Ten the next. He holds records at N.C. State and Wisconsin.
But Wilson went 0-5 as a starter against teams from South Carolina.
Wilson played second base for three seasons at N.C. State. He faced Clemson in ACC play, but didn't play against South Carolina in 2008 when N.C. State eliminated the Gamecocks in the NCAA Tournament Raleigh Regional.
Raising his batting average from .236 as a sophomore in 2009 to .306 with three homers and nine stolen bases in 98 at-bats as a junior, Wilson was the Colorado Rockies' fourth-round pick in the 2010 draft.
He spent the summer of 2011 playing for the Rockies' low-level Class A Asheville team in the South Atlantic League with another former ACC quarterback, Clemson's Kyle Parker. Wilson played against the RiverDogs in Charleston that June.
"You could see the athletic ability," said Greg Colbrunn, the RiverDogs hitting coach in 2011 and now the World Series champion Boston Red Sox hitting coach. "He was kind of raw. Parker was more of a finished product at the time, but you could definitely see why the Rockies drafted him."
Wilson put on a show at The Joe with key contributions in back-to-back games. One night, he scored the winning run in a 5-4, 10-inning Asheville victory. The next night he scored in the third inning and delivered an RBI double in the fifth inning of a 2-1 win.
Wilson, typically cast as an underdog, steadily overachieves. The Texas Rangers like Wilson's leadership ability so much they snagged him away from the Rockies in baseball's Rule 5 draft last month just to have him hang around spring training for a few weeks as a non-participating positive influence (Wilson has agreed).
Super Bowl XLVIII prediction: Manning wins a close one, 35-34.
Because of the same ability to adjust he showed against the Gamecocks, multiplied by 15 seasons of NFL wisdom.
Another prediction: Wilson eventually wins the big one, the Super Bowl if not the World Series.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff
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