Capital One, Cotton, Outback Bowls likely for USC
But that doesn't mean the No. 14 Gamecocks won't have some uncertainty over the next week.
It's almost a guarantee USC will be invited to one of three bowls — the Capital One, Cotton or Outback — but there are numerous scenarios and situations that have to be settled before it becomes clear which one it will be.
Here's a quick rundown of what would lead to the Gamecocks being invited to each bowl (all scenarios based on the presumption of an LSU–Alabama BCS National Championship Game).
Capital One Bowl
Of the three possibilities, this Jan. 2 game is currently the least likely. The Orlando-based game has the first pick of SEC teams after the BCS selects and is contractually obligated to take the SEC team with the best record that doesn't qualify for a BCS bowl, or a team within a win of the best non-BCS team. The Capital One Bowl is expected to select Arkansas, which is 10-2 like the Gamecocks but defeated USC this season and will be ranked higher in the BCS.
But, if for some reason Arkansas expressed a desire to not be invited and play in a different bowl while Georgia suffered a bad loss to LSU in Saturday's SEC Championship Game, the Gamecocks could become the pick.
The Cotton Bowl, played on Jan. 6 at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, traditionally selects a team from the SEC West. But given the fact there should be two 10-win East teams available when the Cotton Bowl selects, with the best remaining West team being 7-5 Auburn, it is expected the Cotton Bowl will feature an Eastern Division member for the first time since Tennessee in 2005.
While the Cotton and Outback Bowls usually pick in tandem, the Outback Bowl technically has the first pick when the games are both selecting teams from the same division. Given Georgia's status as a division champion and a somewhat precarious relationship with USC after a disappointing showing in the 2009 Outback Bowl, many believe the Bulldogs would be the Outback's choice over the Gamecocks.
The presumed weariness of Outback Bowl officials to invite USC back after 2009 could be just that — a presumption — and the Gamecocks could be the selection over a Georgia team they beat no matter what.
However, if the Bulldogs were to somehow upset LSU and win the SEC title, USC almost assuredly would be headed to the Outback Bowl.
If Georgia wins the SEC, it is believed LSU would not fall out of the BCS top 2, staying in line for a BCS Championship Game rematch with Alabama. But due to a loophole that allows a conference to place an unprecedented three teams in the BCS as long as neither of the country's top 2 teams win the league, Georgia would go to the Sugar Bowl as the SEC's automatic qualifier.
In that case, the Outback would be hard pressed to select a 7-5 Auburn team over a 10-2 Gamecocks squad.
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said he wouldn't be surprised if USC returns to the Chick-fil-A Bowl, although the rest of Western Civilization would be. Spurrier said the Chick-fil-A Bowl staff was "really super; of course I like the people in Orlando, Tampa, wherever."
As for the Cotton Bowl, Spurrier seemed doubtful.
"I don't know if we have a shot at that or not," Spurrier said. "I've never been to that one, so if that one worked out, that would be fun."
Spurrier said he doesn't have a bowl preference, nor does he plan to lobby for his team. The selection process will be left in the hands of Athletics Director Eric Hyman, conference officials and bowl officials.
"I let the ADs and all those guys do that," Spurrier said. "We're shooting for 11 (wins), whoever we play in the bowl game."
KRATCH'S BCS + SEC BOWL PROJECTIONS
BCS National Championship Game
LSU vs. Alabama
Michigan vs. West Virginia
Oklahoma State vs. Stanford
Virginia Tech vs. Houston
Oregon vs. Wisconsin
Capital One Bowl
Arkansas vs. Nebraska
South Carolina vs. Michigan State
Georgia vs. Oklahoma
Florida vs. Ohio State
Auburn vs. Georgia Tech
Music City Bowl
Mississippi State vs. Florida State
Vanderbilt vs. Southern Miss