COLUMBIA -- South Carolina spent most of the season shooting for a postseason trip to Atlanta, but now the Gamecocks are trying to avoid one.
Last week's 41-21 loss at Florida dashed South Carolina's dreams of earning a spot in the Georgia Dome for the SEC Championship. There remains a chance they will be in Atlanta for the Peach Bowl, but the No. 25 Gamecocks (7-3, 5-3) would prefer to go south rather than west in late December.
"From the coaches talking, they were saying maybe if we could beat Florida or Clemson out of these last two games, we'd be in a bigger bowl somewhere down in Florida like the Outback Bowl," said senior receiver Jermale Kelly. "If we don't, it will be somewhere like the Peach Bowl or something like that."
A win Saturday at No. 16 Clemson (3:30 p.m., ABC) would enhance South Carolina's chances of securing a coveted spot in the Florida Citrus Bowl, the SEC's top bowl tie-in after the Bowl Championship Series.
A loss would drop the Gamecocks to 7-4 and out of the Citrus mix, though they still would be considered for the Outback or Cotton bowls.
But they likely would be bound for the Peach, and here's why:
Barring national title implications, the winner of the SEC title game will go to the BCS-affiliated Sugar Bowl. The Citrus has the first pick thereafter, but it isn't required to take the loser of the SEC championship.
The Outback must take the title-game loser if the Citrus passes -- unless another arrangement is devised incorporating another bowl with an SEC tie-in.
So if Florida were to beat Auburn in the SEC Championship and the Citrus opted to take Tennessee over the Tigers, the Outback would then select Auburn, leaving the Gamecocks bound for the Peach.
Another requirement prohibits SEC-affiliated bowls from taking a team that has won two fewer games than another. Therefore, the Citrus or Outback wouldn't be able to invite seven-win South Carolina over another SEC team with nine wins.
Three SEC members -- 9-1 Florida, 8-2 Auburn and 7-2 Mississippi State -- are the only teams capable of reaching nine wins before the end of the regular season, but the SEC Championship could afford a West team a chance to bag another victory.
Florida already has wrapped up a spot as the East representative in the title game, but the West is still up for grabs between Auburn, LSU (7-3) and Mississippi State.
If South Carolina loses at Clemson, perhaps the Gamecocks' hope would have Florida beating Louisiana State or Mississippi State in the SEC title game, then the Cotton taking one of the two based on geographical proximity to the Dallas bowl.
That would free up two spots in the Citrus and Outback and increase the likelihood South Carolina would be selected to the latter.
Jim McVay, president and CEO of the Outback Bowl, said Tuesday that he's unsure whether he would take a 7-4 team. Georgia had the same record and went there last season, but McVay said the SEC could have a glut of teams with impressive records in a few weeks.
"I don't know if 7-4 keeps them on the list or not," he said. "This year is an awfully strong year in the SEC. There are a lot of teams that are going to be there with eight wins, and there could be a bunch of teams with nine wins."
1. Sugar (Jan. 2, 8:30 p.m.): SEC Champion vs. at-large.
2. Florida Citrus (Jan. 1, 1 p.m.): SEC vs. Big Ten
3-5 (No particular order):
Cotton (Jan. 1, 11 a.m.): SEC vs. Big 12
Outback (Jan. 1, 11 a.m.): SEC vs. Big Ten
Peach (Dec. 29, 5 p.m.): SEC vs. ACC
6-7 (No particular order):
Music City (Dec. 28, 4 p.m.): SEC vs. Big East
Independence (Dec. 31, 8 p.m.): SEC vs. Big 12
Sugar: $11-$13 million
Florida Citrus: $4 million
Cotton: $2.5 million
Outback: $2 million
Peach: $1.7 million
Music City: $750,000
Independence: $1.1 million
A look at the No. 25 South Carolina Gamecocks (7-3, 5-3 SEC) three days before they play at No. 16 Clemson (8-2, 6-2 ACC) on Saturday (3:30 p.m., ABC-Channel 6):
Latest news: Georgia's loss to Auburn last week guaranteed that the Gamecocks will finish, at worst, third in the SEC East. The Bulldogs have lost three conference games and would lose a tiebreaker by virtue of their Sept. 9 loss to South Carolina. All Tennessee has to do to assure itself a second-place finish behind Florida in the East is win Saturday at home against Kentucky and the following week at Vanderbilt. In eight previous years of SEC competition, the Gamecocks' best finish was third in 1994.
Injuries: C Philip Jones (jaw), LB Andre Offing (knee, ankle), LB Kalimba Edwards (knee, ankle), and QB Phil Petty (ankle) are questionable.
Key stat: Despite Florida's 41-point barrage, South Carolina remains first in SEC scoring defense (15.8 ppg).
Analysis: The Gamecocks gave up a 57-yard punt return for a touchdown against Florida, and Clemson appears capable of inflicting similar damage. The Tigers are averaging 15 yards per return and have run back two for touchdowns (88 and 69 yards).
Quote: "I have a lot of respect for Tommy Bowden. Every time I see him, it's very cordial. He's at Clemson, and you go against one another in recruiting. I have great respect for him as a coach and I have tremendous respect for his father (Florida State coach Bobby Bowden)." -- Gamecocks coach Lou Holtz, on Clemson coach Tommy Bowden.
A look at the No. 22 Georgia Bulldogs (6-3, 4-3 SEC) three days before they play host to Mississippi (6-3, 3-3) on Saturday (6 p.m., ESPN2):
Latest news: Coach Jim Donnan said at his Tuesday press conference that the Bulldogs will proceed as if injured QB Quincy Carter, who sat out last week's loss at Auburn with an injured right thumb, will miss this week's game. "We'll evaluate him again this week and see what happens," Donnan said.
Injuries: Carter and LB Ryan Fleming (ankle) are doubtful. LB Kendrell Bell (thigh) is questionable.
Key stat: Rebels' running back Deuce McAllister needs 77 rushing yards to become the first Ole Miss player to amass 3,000 career yards.
Analysis: Georgia got away from the run against Auburn and managed just 55 yards on the ground, but the Bulldogs could have a prime opportunity to establish a power game against Mississippi. The Rebels are 11th in the SEC and 77th nationally in rushing defense, having given up 170.3 yards per game.
Quote: "Right now, we'll play Edwards if something happens to Cory Phillips." -- Donnan, on whether former Washington County High quarterback and current Bulldogs split end Terrence Edwards will see more time in the signal-caller's spot.
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