Sunday, November 19, 2006


With six wins officially wrapped up -- and a seventh hopefully coming against the Rednecks of Evil -- it's time for Gamecock fans to begin talking about bowl games. Again.

The countdown begins.

When the NCAA went to a 12-game format, it decided that 6-6 teams, no matter how mediocre those six wins might be, would be bowl-eligible. And there are eight tie-ins for SEC teams that are bowl-eligible, giving you a pretty good shot to go bowling in a 12-team conference.

But a funny thing happened with a 12-game schedule. It got a lot easier to get to six wins. Four nonconference games, usually against push-overs (with South Carolina-Clemson, Kentucky-Louisville, Georgia-Georgia Tech and, at least in most years, Florida-FSU being the notable exceptions), could be combined with two wins against the SEC bottom dwellers. A six-win season is thus cobbled together.

And so nine SEC teams will be eligible for bowl games, regardless of what happens Saturday: Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, Arkansas, Auburn and LSU are all locks with seven wins. "The SEC's bowl partners cannot take a 6-6 team if it means a school with a winning record will be left out."

So it will come down to South Carolina and Alabama for the final bowl spot.

All of this becomes moot if we beat Clemson. The bowl game will be locked up.

But, even so, I think the Gamecocks should and probably will edge the Crimson Tide. Why?

On the should end, look at the record of Alabama:

Sept. 2: Hawaii, W 25-7
Sept. 9: Vanderbilt, W 13-10
Sept. 16: Louisiana-Monroe, W 41-7
Sept. 23: at Arkansas, L 24-23
Sept. 30: at Florida, L 28-13
Oct. 7: Duke, W 30-14
Oct. 14: Ole Miss, W 26-23
Oct. 21: at Tennessee, L 16-13
Oct. 28: Florida International, W 38-3
Nov. 4: Mississippi State, L 24-16
Nov. 11: at LSU, L 28-24
Nov. 18: Auburn, L 22-15

Now, the record of South Carolina:

Aug. 31: at Mississippi State, W 15-0
Sept. 9: Georgia, L 18-0
Sept. 16: Wofford, W 27-20
Sept. 23: Florida Atlantic, W 45-6
Sept. 28: Auburn, L 24-17
Oct. 7: at Kentucky, W 24-17
Oct. 21: at Vanderbilt, W 31-13
Oct. 28: Tennessee, L 31-24
Nov. 4: Arkansas, L 26-20
Nov. 11: at Florida, L 17-16
Nov. 18: Middle Tennessee State, 52-7
Nov. 25: at Clemson, pending

Because of the way the SEC schedule works, Alabama and South Carolina have six common opponents, which gives us a good sample to choose from. First of all, both teams lost to Arkansas, Florida, Tennessee and Auburn. Both beat Vanderbilt, though South Carolina in more convincing fashion. But South Carolina beat Mississippi State; Alabama did not. Against common opponents, South Carolina is 2-4, nothing to exult over. But Bama is 1-5.

In all, South Carolina actually outscored the common opponents 123-111. Alabama was outscored 124-93.

Alabama beat two SEC teams, neither bowl eligible. South Carolina beat three, one of them bowl eligible. Again, don't call home or anything, but the Gamecocks are better.

Other reasons they probably will edge Bama:

South Carolina travels well, and in all likelihood would travel better. Alabama's 6-6 is a disappointment. South Carolina going 6-6 or 7-5 will be about what we expected.

And Bama might not have the same coach at the end of the week. Shula is going to be under fire in a huge way.

Daddy, save me from the boosters.

Where will South Carolina go?

The Liberty and Music City Bowls hold the sixth and seventh picks. Independence holds the eighth.

Assuming South Carolina is the other team coming out of the SEC, it will in part depend on the record. If it's 6-6, we'll probably fall to the Independence Bowl. If it's 7-5, Georgia and Kentucky will be in play against South Carolina. Both Georgia and Kentucky will be appealing to the Music City Bowl, though the Gamecocks wouldn't be a horrible choice. The Liberty Bowl, in Memphis, and the Independence Bowl, in Shreveport, would like to have an SEC West team, but I don't see Auburn, Arkansas or LSU falling that far.

That said, the perception will likely be that Georgia and South Carolina will travel better, though we didn't travel too well last year at the Indpendence Bowl. So the Music City will probably take Kentucky, the Liberty would, I think, take a shot with Spurrier at South Carolina, and the Independence would take Georgia.

All that is with just one SEC team going to a BCS bowl. If Florida and Arkansas both go, somebody would move up to one of the 3-5 games. The No. 2 bowl, Capital One, will probably take Auburn. The Cotton Bowl will take LSU. Chick-fil-A will want Tennessee or Georgia. Outback gets the next selection.

If Tennessee is left, they'll go to Outback, Kentucky will go to Music City and South Carolina will go to Liberty. If Georgia is left, I think the Outback would like to go with a 7-5 South Carolina, which has traveled well to Tampa both times, than Georgia, coming off a disappointing season.

If two games go to the BCS and the Gamecocks are 6-6, it's probably the Liberty or the Independence. I think Liberty would take South Carolina over Alabama, for all the above-mentioned reasons. And the Independence would prefer Alabama over South Carolina. But Liberty could want Alabama just for proximity, so we'll see.

So the most likely destination is Liberty. Then I'd say it's Independence, followed by Outback.


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