Now that the regular season is over, the Gamecocks sit at 6-6 heading into the final week before bowl decisions are made. The loss to Clemson was, unfortunately, significant for the Gamecocks' bowling destination. Before explaining why, let's take a look at how bowling decisions are now being made.
As you might have heard, along with the new playoff system, a new picking system for the second-tier bowls has also been instituted. If you look at bowl projections that include picking order, you'll notice that among the non-New Year's Six bowls, the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl (no longer named the Capital One Bowl, as Capital One now has a partnership with the Orange Bowl) gets second pick for SEC teams, essentially meaning it gets its pick among SEC teams that don't head to a New Year's Six bowl. After the Citrus Bowl, you'll notice something new: six bowls are listed as getting picks 3-8 from the SEC. These bowls are the Taxslayer Gator Bowl, the Texas Bowl, the Belk Bowl, the Liberty Bowl, the Music City Bowl, and the Outback Bowl. The idea behind these bowls not having a specific place in the pecking order between 3-8, as I understand it, is that rather than letting the bowls pick in order, the SEC league office will now be working closely with these bowls to try to maximize the number of matchups that are broadly appealing. The idea is to prevent individual bowls from making odd decisions that the bowl selection committee finds appealing for whatever reason but that leads to a bad matchup that isn't appealing to traveling fans or television audiences. You'll also note that the Belk and Texas, which are new to the SEC, as well as the Liberty and the Music City, formerly considered decidedly third-tier bowls, are now equal to the formerly second-tier Outback and Gator.
One of these bowls could still pick Carolina; in fact, Jason Kirk has the Gamecocks headed to the Gator Bowl, which is a bowl that hasn't hosted Carolina in decades and that has shown interest in Carolina for that reason. If Carolina had beaten Clemson, I would say that's a good projection. The Belk Bowl, which is played in Charlotte and is thus a convenient trip for Carolina fans, is another bowl for which Carolina might have been appealing to both the bowl selection team as well as the SEC office.
With the loss to Clemson, though, there's significantly less enthusiasm regarding Carolina, both among Gamecocks fans and national television audiences. A win over Clemson would have ended the season with a three-game winning streak; the loss has Carolina limping into bowl season with the memory of its first fall to its in-state rival since 2008 fresh to mind. I don't think the Gamecocks are attractive enough right now to beat out teams with similar resumes for spots in the second-tier bowls. Arkansas and Tennessee are both also 6-6, and both teams finished better than Carolina and have fan bases that will travel to see their teams play in their first bowls under new coaching regimes.
That means the Gamecocks are likely headed to one of the two most lowly SEC bowls. The Birmingham Bowl gets the first pick of teams that don't get an invite to a second-tier bowl. Saturday Down South has the Gamecocks playing in Birmingham against Cincinnati, where at least Carolina would get a chance to finally beat Tommy Tuberville. CBS projects the same matchup, while ESPN has Carolina in Birmingham but against Memphis.
The Independence Bowl gets the last SEC pick. Phil Steele has Carolina in this bowl taking on North Carolina, a matchup that would be appealing if not for the fact that Carolina opens with the Tar Heels next year.
Personally, I'd prefer the Birmingham. First of all, I live in Alabama and might be able to go. Legion Field is a dump, but Birmingham isn't too bad itself. Second of all, Cincinnati is a team Carolina should beat, and continuing the streak of non-losing seasons is about the only thing of meaning this team can accomplish to close the season.