COLUMBIA — They say they can, and they want to.
So the season carries on.
South Carolina accepted an invitation to the Gasparilla Bowl on Sunday with a matchup against Conference USA champion UAB (6-3) in Tampa, Fla., on Saturday. The game kicks off at noon on WCIV (ABC).
The Gamecocks (2-8) returned to campus last week to begin preparations, and despite numerous injuries and the constant threat of COVID, feel they will have enough of a roster to compete. Interim head coach Mike Bobo said USC had 51 or 52 scholarship players practicing on Sunday.
“Obviously, we’re excited about being able to represent South Carolina and the Southeastern Conference in the Gasparilla Bowl,” Bobo said. “This season has not been at all what we expected. But guess what? We have another opportunity to put our name on something.”
New head coach Shane Beamer will not participate in the bowl game. Beamer will be on the sideline observing the team’s limited bowl practices.
Nearly all of the rest of the staff — even defensive coordinator Travaris Robinson and special teams coordinator Kyle Krantz, who will not be retained by Beamer — will also coach the bowl game. The only absence will be former offensive line coach Eric Wolford, who has taken the same position at Kentucky.
Landon “Big Farm” Martin, a former analyst, will coach the O-line during the bowl game.
As for the players, the Gamecocks are sure they will have enough. They only dressed 53 scholarship players for the last game, a 41-18 loss at Kentucky on Dec. 5, but stand to get several players who were injured back for the bowl. COVID testing has also gone very well over the past week.
Top receiver Shi Smith, top offensive lineman Sadarius Hutcherson and top tackler Ernest Jones will not play in the bowl, as they have already declared for the NFL draft. The Gamecocks also lost backup safety Shilo Sanders to the transfer portal since the end of the regular season.
Bobo said he will not release the depth chart nor the roster until the day before the game, but admitted the Gamecocks will be shorthanded.
“The fun’s in the grind,” Bobo said. “I truly believe (the kids are excited to play). We all chose South Carolina. You have to take every opportunity you have. We all want next year to be better this year. Let’s start right now.”
It’s the 24th bowl appearance in program history and the first since the 2018 Belk Bowl, a 28-0 humiliation to Virginia in Charlotte. The Gamecocks are 9-14 in bowls but 9-6 since they won their first in the 1995 CarQuest Bowl.
The Gasparilla will be USC’s sixth appearance in Tampa for a bowl game, all since 2001. USC is 4-1 in the previous five, all Outback Bowls.
USC is scheduled to leave Thursday night for Tampa, practice on Christmas and then play on Saturday. The normal “bowl week” activities for fans were canceled due to COVID.
The Blazers won their second conference championship in the past three seasons on Friday. USC has beaten UAB in all of its previous three meetings, the last in 2012.
Stadium capacity for fans has not been announced, but tickets are on sale.