Commentary by Ted Felder
Whether or not you agree that South Carolina got the short end of the stick from the SEC, the conference looks pretty stupid today over its handling of the bowl selection process. If you want to make the argument that the Outback Bowl should have picked Florida over USC then you have to admit that LSU should have been taken over Florida. If you try to then turn around and say, "No, the bowl has a history of choosing teams with lesser records," then you have to admit that the Outback Bowl had every right to take South Carolina over Florida.
In a beautiful "stealth" shot at the conference, Coach Spurrier nailed them on this during his ESPN appearance right after the selections were made. He basically said that the Gamecocks were happy being in a bowl and that the team that got the bad deal was LSU. By presenting it that way he effectively shoved it right in the SEC's ear. The key point and bottom line are that the Outback Bowl, left alone by the conference to choose whomever it wanted, would NOT have chosen Florida. Tampa businesses and hotels will now lose a ton of commerce and they know that the conference is to blame.
Understandably the USC fan base is also upset by these actions, as it should be. Don't be surprised when the conference does a much better job next year of illustrating ahead of time its parameters for bowl selections.
Obviously, a deeper historical issue is involved here for South Carolina. As they learned in the old ACC days, certain schools are "taken care of" ahead of others and you have to win your way onto that protected list. The Gamecocks have beaten Alabama, Tennessee and Florida in the last two years but it's going to take consistency and hardware to earn that "special" status.
Old-time USC boosters may not want to admit this even to today, but Carolina made a huge long-term mistake by leaving the ACC over similar treatment. So Carolina is clearly not going to consider leaving the SEC in protest, and six more weeks of throwing a tantrum won't help anybody. Therefore, the best thing USC can do is turn their frustration and focus on the bowl bid they did receive and turn the negative into a positive.
After all, even with the SEC's unfair treatment the Gamecocks, Carolina has no one to blame but themselves for not beating Clemson, as Spurrier mentioned during that same interview on ESPN. In other words, while the SEC is learning its lessons, USC needs to learn one of its own and take care of its rivals.
So we come to the Independence Bowl. The Gamecocks should swarm into Shreveport and give them the same type of response that the Outback Bowl received. Make no mistake about it: It is this type of bowl trip that earns a school and its fans a reputation either way. Most schools (with a few exceptions) would have no trouble having good crowds at the big bowls. For example, there is nothing special in saying, "We really packed the Sugar Bowl and took over New Orleans." That's not exactly a unique success. On the other hand, pouring into the Independence Bowl, rocking the house, beating Missouri and leaving the bowl officials there buzzing in the conference's ears about your fans is another story.
Now, of course, the numbers from Columbia won't be as large this year as the Outback crowds were. Many legitimate factors will contribute to it being a smaller crowd overall, but nobody is saying that the crowd has to be the same size to make the point. Carolina's turnout just needs to be the one of the best Shreveport has ever seen. At the restaurants, hotels and casinos, bowl officials need to see Carolina bumper stickers, clothing and flags.
No, an Independence Bowl win won't send ripples of excitement throughout the United States, but it is important to USC. Steve Spurrier has a chance to be the first coach in his initial year at the school to win a combination of seven regular season games and a bowl victory. The Gamecocks could end the year 8-4 and ranked after starting the year 2-3 with a 48-7 loss at Auburn. Included in that record, of course, are those wins over Florida and Tennessee and the big-time scare in Athens. The message would reverberate into the ears of the SEC officials for months to come that Carolina and Coach Spurrier have arrived and don't plan to leave.
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