With the regular season over and Mizzou representing the East in the SEC Championship Game, South Carolina is now playing the waiting game to see where it will end up during bowl season. The answer partially depends on what happens in Atlanta. Alabama is certain to get an at-large BCS bid. The winner of Auburn-Mizzou will also get the SEC's automatic BCS bid. Where those two end up will depend on what happens with Florida St. and Ohio St.; if one loses, the Auburn-Mizzou winner will likely play for the national title, and if both lose (extremely unlikely considering FSU is a four-score favorite over Duke), it's not out of the realm of possibilities that 'Bama will get a shot at the SEC winner for the national title despite not winning the SEC, much like it did in 2011. In any event, the loser of Auburn-Mizzou will compete with Carolina for a spot in the top non-BCS SEC bowls. Here are the four possibilities, what the chances entail, and what I think of the bowl:
--Capital One Bowl. The Gamecocks could end up in the Capital One Bowl if Auburn wins the SEC. If Mizzou wins, Auburn is likely to play in the Capital One Bowl, where it hasn't played in several years but has had good turnouts when it has. The Capital One Bowl would love to have a hot, highly ranked team like Auburn in its bowl. They might not be so keen, though, on Mizzou, a team whose fanbase might not make the long trip. Auburn would likely be ranked higher if it loses in the SECCG than Mizzou would if it loses, another reason Auburn would be more attractive. Indeed, Mizzou might be ranked below USC if it loses to Auburn. If Auburn is in the BCS, that leaves South Carolina competing with LSU for the spot, and Carolina likely wins that battle by virtue of being the hotter team with the better record and higher ranking. The Capital One, unlike other bowls such as the Outback, truly does want the best teams as opposed to the best brand, and that could play in the Gamecocks' favor in this scenario. This would be a good destination for the Gamecocks. The likely opponent would be Wisconsin, a ranked B10 team we could be proud of beating should we do so. There's also a slim possibility we might play Michigan St., should the Spartans lose badly to Ohio St. and fall out of the running for what now appears to be a likely BCS at-large bid. Again, a high-profile opponent with the added bonus of a coach who played at USC and who many will be interested in once Spurrier retires. The Capital One Bowl also brings the prestige of being perceived as the best non-BCS SEC tie-in.
--Chick-fil-A Bowl. The scenario that could land the Gamecocks in Atlanta would involve Mizzou wining the SEC, which would send Auburn to the Capital One Bowl. The would put the Gamecocks in contention for either the Outback, where there's Gamecocks fatigue, and the Cotton Bowl, which may be interested but generally picks a Western Division team. There's a solid possibility we might get the Cotton in this scenario, but if not, I wouldn't be opposed to the CFA for several reasons. The CFA Bowl is considered the fifth-best SEC Bowl behind the Sugar, the C1, the Outback, and the Cotton, but bids are often determined by factors other than accomplishment, so there's no intrinsic reason to hate on this bowl. The bowl provides a lot of national exposure because it's the showcase game on New Year's Eve. Football fans around the country tune in while they're getting the festivities kicked off. It also generally pits an SEC team against a good ACC squad, this year likely Miami or Duke. Although the Gamecocks will beat either of these teams if we come to play, both would be fun opponents, Miami because of the name recognition, Duke because we have ACC history with them and because of Spurrier's tenure there. Lastly, it's a game many Carolina fans could attend because of proximity. It's the one I'm personally most likely to attend. I went in 2010, and while the Gamecocks played poorly, I had a lot of fun and recommend this game heartily.
--Cotton Bowl. The Cotton Bowl generally takes a Western Division team; Tennessee is the only Eastern Division team it's taken in the past. The stipulated pecking order is that after the Capital One Bowl takes its pick of the non-BCS SEC teams, the Outback picks the remaining Eastern team it wants, while the Cotton picks the remaining Western team it wants. However, the two can negotiate with each other and with potential participants regarding a swap. That may be what happens this year. USC has played in the Outback Bowl several times over the past 15 years, and neither side is excited about yet another trip. The Outback might prefer a brand-name program like LSU or Mizzou's first appearance in a big SEC bowl, should Mizzou be available. The Cotton might like to get Steve Spurrier and the Gamecocks for the first time. This would be another good option for Carolina, particularly because we'd possibly get an exciting matchup against the high-flying Baylor Bears, a team we've only faced three times and not since the 1970s. A win over a highly ranked Baylor team is something we could hang our hats on. Texas would be another possible opponent, and while they wouldn't come in as highly ranked and likely wouldn't present as much of a challenge to Carolina, they are a big-name program we could be proud of beating--a win over the 'Horns would mean we've beaten Nebraska, Michigan, and Texas in three consecutive bowls, no mean feat. My only concern with this game is that I'm concerned about our fan turnout for a game halfway across the country. However, anecdotally, I've heard that a lot of Carolina fans are indeed interested in making the trip to Dallas to see the Gamecocks play in the state-of-the-art AT&T Stadium.
--Outback Bowl. This is an unlikely destination due to Outback Bowl fatigue from both parties. The Outback Bowl would prefer to have LSU or Mizzou, while Carolina would prefer the Cotton and maybe even the CFA to the Outback. It's always possible, but probably a no-go.
What's your preference, Carolina fans?