ORLANDO, Fla. -- When Melvin Ingram looks you in the eye and says this South Carolina football team is serious about winning a bowl game, it's hard to do anything but nod.

Snicker if you like, but not in the presence of a 6-2, 276-pound senior who doesn't seem distracted by the Penguin Encounter at Sea World.

"The focus is a lot more," Ingram said of No. 10 South Carolina's approach to No. 21 Nebraska in today's Capital One Bowl.

This is the guy who single- handedly was the difference at Georgia in September, a self-made ferocious force and leader who willed himself into an All-American.

Ingram isn't alone. He represents the "new Carolina" the coaching staff dwells on.

Orlando has been fun, running back Kenny Miles said, "but every- body knows our goal is to win (today)."

Of course, we've heard the "we're ready" chatter -- before USC's last three bowl games, all losses.

The 2008 team was pummeled by a bunch of better and more prepared Iowa Hawkeyes, 31-10, in the Outback Bowl.

Many players on the 2009 team didn't look like they wanted any part of a cold-weather Papajohns.com Bowl in Birmingham, Ala. Body language translated into a 20-7 loss to Connecticut.

The 2010 Gamecocks were favored in the Chick-fil-A Bowl but Marcus Lattimore got hurt and Florida State won, 26-17.

'Something special'

"Two years ago, we really weren't holding ourselves accountable," Ingram said. "But this year, we've made a lot of team goals and we have an opportunity to do something special."

The program's first 11-win season, he means.

This South Carolina team already has the best SEC record (6-2) in school history and earned a third straight win over Clemson.

Next on the to-do list: Establish new tradition by changing old bad habits.

"Like losing bowl games," Ingram said.

Nebraska isn't pastry.

The Cornhuskers are the nation's winningest program since 1970 -- with 412 wins, way ahead of second-place Ohio State and Oklahoma (385 apiece). The pride in a 9-3 team is personified in players such as rugged senior Rex Burkhead, who has rushed for 1,268 yards and 15 touchdowns this season and isn't cowering.

Asked about the reputation of SEC defenses in general and South Carolina in particular, Burkhead said, "I think we've played numerous great defenses throughout the Big Ten. They remind me a little bit of Michigan State."

The Cornhuskers whipped Michigan State, 24-3.

Memphis memories

A new bowl-game Carolina?

Doubt is understandable.

South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, 7-10 in bowl games, wants on-field evidence that this bowl trip will end unlike the previous three.

"We don't look back a lot. We just got beat," Spurrier said. "That's one way to say it. We didn't play very well, had some turnovers, had some stuff happen. That's history. The game (today) should be decided on which team plays the best, which team plays with the fewest mistakes, maybe makes some big plays.

"And every team is different. Each year, even though you return a lot of the guys, there are different aspects and different leaders and so forth. So we'll see how this team plays in the bowl game."

The Gamecocks last won a bowl game on Dec. 29, 2006, rallying to defeat Houston, 44-36, in the Liberty Bowl. It came down to a Hail Mary incompletion in Memphis by the Cougars' quarterback.

Doesn't it seem like Kevin Kolb has been in the NFL for a long time?

Reach Gene Sapakoff at gsapakoff@postandcourier.com or Twitter/@sapakoff.