For the last three seasons, South Carolina has been the model of consistency.
The Gamecocks have finished the regular season at 10-2 three consecutive times and earned themselves a trip to one of the more respectable Florida bowl games with SEC tie-ins (two Capital One Bowl visits and a cameo in the Outback Bowl).
The bad news: South Carolina is, by way of math and eyesight, not as good as those teams this year.
The good news: The death of the Bowl Championship Series not only created the College Football Playoff, but the shockwaves have led to other changes bowl-season changes that could benefit the Gamecocks.
In years past, bowls would invite teams to play in their respective games, often aligning with conferences to keep consistent matchups. For example, South Carolina's trip to the Capital One Bowl last year was the result of the game's agreement to pit an SEC team against a Big 10 opponent.
This year, for the first time, the Southeastern Conference itself will place its bowl-eligible teams into games with which the SEC has a tie-in. There will be collaboration between the conference and the bowls themselves, but the decision will ultimately come down to the SEC.
For a team to be bowl eligible, it must have six wins, only one of which may come against an FCS opponent. At 4-4, the Gamecocks have to win two of their remaining four games to qualify for an invite to bowl season.
Based on the various possibilities for South Carolina's final record, here are projections for where the Gamecocks could end up this winter.
South Carolina final record: 8-4
Destination: Belk Bowl
A four-game winning streak to end the season isn't the most outlandish suggestion in history, but it would be pretty optimistic. The Gamecocks still host Tennessee and South Alabama with trips to Florida and Clemson as well. But if South Carolina is to run the table, a trip to Charlotte for the Belk Bowl is likely. This game is one of the six bowls that the SEC can choose from when placing the teams that finish between third and eighth place. This is the first year the Belk Bowl has had a tie-in with the SEC, previously hosting teams from the ACC and the AAC (formerly the Big East). While the ACC has stuck around, the AAC has been booted for the SEC. South Carolina fans have proven they travel well for bowl games, and a two-hour drive to a neighboring state would probably put a good number of garnet-clad people in seats. That plus a strong showing from the Gamecocks to finish the season would make South Carolina a prime candidate for the SEC's brand new partner in the Belk Bowl.
South Carolina final record: 7-5
Destination: TaxSlayer Bowl
This is another scenario that would most likely see the Gamecock finish in the 3-8 window of the SEC. And South Carolina's history with the TaxSlayer Bowl in its various incarnations could warrant a return trip if the Gamecocks are to go 3-1 in their last four games. South Carolina played in the first ever game in the bowl's history, a 26-14 loss to Wake Forest in 1946's inaugural Gator Bowl. The Gamecocks have played in the bowl four total times, making them the SEC team with the third-most appearances. The 2015 TaxSlayer Bowl has tie-ins with the SEC and the Big 10, so an invite for South Carolina would mean a fourth-straight bowl matchup opposite an outfit from that conference.
South Carolina final record: 6-6
Destination: Duck Commander Independence Bowl
This is certainly not ideal, but at 6-6, I'm sure the Gamecocks would welcome any bowl that would have them. The criteria for the Independence Bowl is the 10th-best available team from the SEC against the seventh selection from the ACC. With the exact amount of wins required for bowl eligibility, South Carolina would be at or near the bottom of the pecking order in the conference, most likely punching the Gamecocks' tickets to Shreveport, Louisiana for the Duck Commander bowl.
South Carolina final record: 5-7 or 4-8
Destination: The Rapture
There will be no bowl game. For either of these scenarios to happen, the Gamecocks would have to lose to Clemson, South Alabama or both. In the event of this grandiose disaster, you'll want to seek shelter or just get out of town for a while. Purge-like events may commence as soon as the final whistle blows. We'll cross that bridge when we come to it, though.