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December 1, 2010

Capital One Bowl Still In Play

If the super majority of college football prognosticators are correct, South Carolina won't be spending New Year's on Bourbon Street.

If not, then where?

Orlando is one possibility, or maybe Tampa or even Atlanta.

The Capital One Bowl, which is played at the Citrus Bowl, a hop, skip and a jump from Disney World, has the first selection of SEC schools after the Bowl Championship Series make their picks.

By all accounts, the SEC will get two teams into BCS bowls for the fifth straight year no matter the outcome of Saturday's nationally televised 4 p.m. conference championship game between South Carolina and Auburn at the Georgia Dome.

If USC wins, the Gamecocks will go to the Jan. 4 Sugar Bowl and likely face Ohio State at the Superdome in a rematch of the 2001 and 2002 Outback Bowls, while Auburn would probably land in the Orange Bowl with a 12-1 mark if they don't fall below No. 2 in the BCS standings and end up in the national championship game.

Should Auburn prevail, the Tigers would head to Glendale, Ariz. for the BCS national championship game, while Arkansas (No. 7 in BCS standings) would travel to New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl as an at-large BCS selection.

The latter scenario would produce a three-team race for the Capital One Bowl berth between USC, LSU and Alabama.

What are the Gamecocks' chances in that situation? Capital Bowl CEO Steve Hogan contends USC is "right in the middle of it" as his Jan. 1 bowl game continues to evaluate potential teams.

Of course, the Capital One Bowl would have the opportunity to take the Gamecocks only if they lose the SECCG to Auburn. AS a result, Hogan is eager to see how USC performs against an unbeaten team ranked No. 1 in the latest BCS standings.

"We need to see what happens Saturday," Hogan told Gamecock Central recently in a phone interview. "There are four teams we're high on at the moment that we're monitoring. South Carolina is one of those. It's a difficult choice. All of them are right there. It's been hard."

Hogan confirmed the other three teams are Alabama, Arkansas and LSU.

"Depending on how things shake out for the at-large selections in the BCS, we'll have some combination of three teams to pick from," Hogan said. "It's going to be a huge debate. First, we want to see what transpires in the championship game, what kind of game is it, how it goes, what's the mood of the fan base, what is the team looking to accomplish and what does the team want as a reward."

Some of those intangibles are weighed against black-and-white factors like overall records of the teams, head-to-head matchups and BCS rankings.

"All those things will come into play. If it's a tossup among some teams, then you step down a level and look at other things like interesting story lines, last time in Orlando and the potential matchup against whatever Big 10 team we take," Hogan said.

The combined payout of the two participating schools in the Capital One Bowl is approximately $9.35 million, meaning each institution receives about $4.68 million for making the trip to central Florida.

Hogan said the fact LSU played in the Capital One Bowl last year was "definitely a factor" before adding multiple teams have played in the Capital One Bowl in consecutive years. However, five different SEC schools have played in the COB over the last five years.

"It's not a prohibitive thing as much as just being a factor," Hogan said. "We don't give it any less weight than it needs to have. It's one of the things we'll consider about the teams that are left for us."

BCS rankings are an "important factor," Hogan said. Right now, LSU is ranked No. 10, three spots below Arkansas but six spots ahead of Alabama (16) and nine spots in front of USC (19).

"I don't want to discount it because it is important as a key component," Hogan said. "We expect at our selection level to have a ranked team, certainly. The higher the better. Then we'll weigh that against all the other factors we consider. Everything comes into play, but ranking is important."

Having as many as three SEC teams to choose from makes this a unique year, Hogan said. Typically, the most deserving team is more clear-cut, But not in 2010 considering the topsy-turvy year in the conference.

"It's just one of those weird years," Hogan said. "We're not accustomed to that many folks having an argument."

What factors give a USC a chance to go to Orlando? Hogan cited the passionate Gamecock fan base - just like most of the teams in the SEC - and USC's historical success this season as far as winning the SEC East.

USC last played a bowl game in Orlando in 1975 when they faced Miami (OH) in the Tangerine Bowl.

"It's been a while since South Carolina has been to Orlando and played at this level," Hogan said. "Steve Spurrier is an interesting story line along with a good quarterback, a great running back and a great defense. So you know you're going to get a great and exciting product on the field. Those things make South Carolina a heckuva candidate."

How important a factor is it that USC won their rivalry game against Clemson while Alabama lost the Iron Bowl after blowing a big lead and LSU fell to Arkansas in Little Rock. Hogan said it's a small factor since the only way USC becomes available to the Capital One Bowl is by losing the SEC Championship game."

"If they weren't playing this weekend, that might factor a little higher," Hogan said. "Again, the way USC plays on Saturday will definitely be a factor. There's no two ways to look at that. Championship games are exciting things, but they're tough on the fan base too. Saturday could be as much of an opportunity as a detriment. Right now, I know they're focused on winning the conference and getting into the BCS and they should be. We'll see what happens. They can play in the BCS and I know that's exciting for the fans."

The Capital One Bowl is scheduled to announce their two teams Sunday around 7:30 p.m. The Big 10 team is expected to be Michigan State, which went 11-1 and was co-champion along with Wisconsin and Ohio State. Both of those schools are expected to receive lucrative berths into BCS bowls, with Wisconsin playing in the Rose Bowl and Ohio State in the Sugar.

USC-Clemson Game Week sponsored by Mallard Orchard Hunt Club

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