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The Last Week of the Regular Season: What to Watch for South Carolina Fans

Eric Francis

There's a decent-ish amount of good football this weekend, but two games stand out for me. First of all, we should all tune in to the Wisconsin-Nebraska B10 title bout. This game has implications for Carolina's bowl destination. All signs currently point towards Carolina heading back to the Outback Bowl for to take on the Northwestern Wildcats. Both of ESPN's analysts have this happening, and it makes sense if things work out according to plan tomorrow, and by that I mean if Nebraska wins over the Badgers. The Huskers are slight favorites, and the game should be a good one. If the Badgers find a way to win, things could get interesting. The Huskers would then be out of the running for the Rose Bowl, and since the Capital One Bowl is reportedly taking Michigan regardless of what happens in the B10 title game, the Huskers would fall to the Outback, who would love to have Nebraska instead of Northwestern. That would force decisions regarding whether or not it wants a rematch of last year's bowl game between Carolina and Nebraska. Should things fall through, we'd fall to the Gator, where we'd play Northwestern. So, basically, it looks like we're playing Northwestern either way, unless we end up playing Nebraska again. It just might be in the Outback, or it might be in the Gator.

Personally, I'm all for the Outback against Northwestern. There still seems to be a bitter taste in the mouths of both USC and the Outback over our showing in Tampa a few years back against Iowa, but I say that's water under the bridge. The three-game stretch that season when we were blown out by Florida, Clemson, and Iowa was probably the nadir of Spurrier's tenure here, and it's been all uphill since then. It would be fun to go back down there and prove how far we've come since that Iowa game. For the Outback, the concern is that USC won't travel well, but the Bloomin' Onion folks need to understand that Carolina fans were not excited about the 2008 season and were ready to put it behind us. This year will be different. Morale is high after the stirring victory against Clemson. Our fans will make it down there to support this program as it shoots for another top 10 finish. Northwestern will also be fun. I'd kind of prefer more of a name program like Michigan or Wisconsin, but the Wildcats have a good team this year and they'll be a new experience for us. If we fall to the Gator to play them, that's fine, too. The new location will be fun, even if the bowl isn't as prestigious. I'm not really into the idea of playing Nebraska again, I should add, even if it would be fun to see Clowney sling Taylor Martinez around again.

The other game to watch, of course, is the SEC Championship Game. There are two things I'm watching for in this game. UGA's passing game against 'Bama's secondary is the major strategical element in my view. 'Bama's secondary was perceived as a weakness coming into the season, but it wasn't tested early on. Then came LSU and especially Texas A&M, which moved the ball in the air against 'Bama. Can Georgia do the same? I do feel that Georgia's receivers should be able to hold their own against 'Bama's secondary, but the question is whether UGA can protect Aaron Murray. If 'Bama gets the kind of pressure on Murray that we got, Murray will struggle, obviously. Of course, 'Bama doesn't have Clowney, so it remains to be seen how well they'll do.

The second thing to watch, more generally, is whether Georgia holds its own in this game. Georgia fans are riding high right now, but if they get run off the field tomorrow, you can bet they'll have more or less the same response that Clemson fans had after we won last weekend. They'll know that this season was fool's gold and that they're still not back yet. On the other hand, if they win or even lose close, it'll be a huge vindication for Mark Richt's program. I tend to believe the result will be somewhere in between--not the blowout win we saw LSU execute last year, but a convincing win by 'Bama. I'll have to admit, though, that Georgia has looked better and 'Bama worse than I thought they would this year, so it'll be interesting.