TAMPA, Fla. -- A bowl rematch these days?
That was a scary concept for South Carolina coach Lou Holtz. "Coming to the same bowl, I'm oh for two in rematches," he said Monday. "So don't read my book on rematches."
Holtz will try and avoid going 0-3 on New Year's Day when the 14th-ranked Gamecocks (8-3) meet No. 22 Ohio State (7-4), who they defeated 24-7 here at Raymond James Stadium a year ago.
It used to be there was no higher call for Ohio State than returning to the Rose Bowl each season and to most likely face powerhouse Southern Cal. Those teams tangled in Pasadena for three straight seasons from 1972-74.
But with more bowls out there and more competition among most conferences, replays are scarcely seen anymore. Since 1990, the Buckeyes have played in the Liberty, Hall of Fame, Citrus, Holiday, Rose, Sugar and Outback bowls with not one repeat bowl opponent among them.
Still, Ohio State safety Donnie Nickey said his teammates' psyches intensified when they learned their opponent. "We had a lot of motivation on our side because of what happened last year," he said. "We were embarrassed. We don't expect that this time."
South Carolina center Larrell Johnson said the Gamecocks were slightly disappointed when the whacky Southeastern Conference finish - Tennessee defeating Florida, then losing in the league title game to LSU - shuffled them back to the Outback.
Running back-wide receiver Ryan Brewer, last year's Outback MVP with three touchdowns, agreed.
"There were mixed emotions coming in," Brewer said. "We wanted Tennessee to beat LSU so we could go to the Citrus Bowl. Once we started thinking about it, we realized that we can prove to a lot of people who don't believe in us that we're a good team."
A victory by the Gamecocks would be the first time the team has won consecutive bowl games and conclude the most successful two year stretch in 108 seasons of football.
This bowl trip has already been more of a success for Ohio State than last year.
Receiver Reggie Germany was declared academically ineligible; linebacker Matt Wilhelm called then-captain Ken-Yon Rambo a poor leader; and the revelation of a lawsuit tackle Tyson Walter filed against teammate LeCharles Bentley.
The final straw came on the field when Brewer, a native of Troy, Ohio, who was that state's "Mr. Football" in 1998, had 109 yards rushing and 92 yards receiving to lead South Carolina to victory.
Brewer's hometown wanted to give him a parade. Administrators at Ohio State sent then-coach John Cooper packing.
New coach Jim Tressel says he can't measure his team's attitude against last year. "I can say that I've been pleased with the way they've approached things" in what's been a quiet camp, he said.
Ohio State tailback Jonathan Wells remembers the sick feeling of walking off the field here last year. "But then we had the coaching change, and we kind of wiped everything from last year out of our minds," he said.
Holtz, who lost a Peach Bowl rematch against West Virginia while coaching at North Carolina State and one at the Orange Bowl against Colorado while at Notre Dame, has also been pleased with South Carolina's mental focus and preparation this week. He said none of the Gamecocks think last year's victory means anything this time. "They understand and that's what I think is very critical," the coach said.
Whether South Carolina's preparation is enough to overcome the single-mindedness of last year's loss for Ohio State is another matter. "I know one thing this year," Buckeyes defensive lineman Mike Collins says, "everybody is doing what it takes to be successful Tuesday."
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