Now that USC has reached its midseason point, it's time to take a look at the post season bowl projections for the Gamecocks.
Prior to the second half collapse and subsequent loss at Kentucky, Carolina was possibly heading toward a 7-1 SEC record and a trip to New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl.
Now the Gamecocks are sitting at 2-2 in conference and the bowl projection water just got a whole lot murkier.
To understand the bowl projections, we first have to determine where everyone in the SEC is likely to finish. See below:
SEC Predicted Final Standings
- Auburn 8-0
- Alabama 6-2
- Arkansas 6-2
- LSU 5-3
- Miss. State 3-5
- Ole Miss 2-6
- South Carolina 5-3
- Georiga 4-4
- Kentucky 4-4
- Florida 3-5
- Tennessee 1-7
- Vanderbilt 1-7
That's how I see the season unfolding. I think Auburn has proved they are the real deal and will be tough to stop. I have Arkansas beating South Carolina to get the Razorbacks to 6-2.
I believe LSU will fall to Auburn, Alabama and Arkansas. In the East, I think Georgia has turned it around and will win out, except for the game at Auburn.
Now that we have that determined, I'll run down the list of Carolina's likely destinations from best to worst case scenario.
Best case scenario for USC would be to win out, finish 6-2 during the regular season, win the SEC Championship game and punch their ticket to New Orleans and the Sugar Bowl. It's a possibility, but not one I see too likely to happen.
Next up is the most likely scenario, which will depend on which Gamecock team decides to show up the rest of the season.
Going by the predicted final standings above, I have Auburn playing for the National Championship, Alabama playing in the Sugar Bowl and USC playing in the Capital One Bowl.
Not counting the past two seasons where the No. 1 and No. 2 ranked teams nationally played in the SEC Championship game, with the winner going on to the NC game, the loser of the SEC Championship did not automatically get a bid for the Sugar Bowl when the SEC winner plays for the National Title.
In 2006 and 2007, Florida and LSU won the SEC beating Arkansas and Tennessee respectively, and played for the National Title. Arkansas and Tennessee were skipped over for LSU and Georgia respectively in the Sugar Bowl that followed.
I can see the Sugar Bowl committee selecting Alabama over South Carolina, even though USC beat the Tide.
So again, the most likely scenario for Carolina is the Capital One Bowl, where they would face the Big Ten No.2 team, which at this time is a tie between Iowa and Purdue.
Will the Big Ten standings stay pat. I doubt it. I think Michigan State takes the Big Ten with Iowa finishing second ahead of Wisconsin and Ohio State.
That sets up a rematch from the Outback Bowl two years ago in which Iowa stomped South Carolina 31-10.
Carolina fans would be wise to keep an eye on the Big Ten race as the next likely bowl destination opponent also hails from that conference up North.
If Carolina loses at Florida, and the rest of the prediction comes true, there would be a four team tie atop the SEC East.
That's where this can get scary and very confusing. If you've ever looked at the SEC tie breaker rules, you know it can get a little confusing. Hopefully we don't run into this issue, and I don't believe we will considering the play of Florida at this time.
We'll cross this bridge when we have to, so for now, here's the LINK to the SEC Divisional Tie–Breaker and you may ponder its meaning if you wish.
To continue, if Carolina misses out on the Capital One Bowl, the next most likely destination will be back to the Outback Bowl where USC has enjoyed success more often than not with a 2-1 record in this bowl.
Technically, the Cotton Bowl has priority over the Outback bowl, but their committee usually selects a SEC West team. If Arkansas is selected for the Capital One Bowl, I think LSU would be selected for the Cotton Bowl.
Peeking at the Big Ten again, Carolina could be set to play either Wisconsin or Ohio State as things stand now. I'm thinking it'll be Wisconsin or Iowa, depending on who loses the Iowa–Wisconsin game.
Whether it's the Capital One or Outback bowl, USC will be facing a tough and physical Big Ten opponent, which I think is to Carolina's advantage.
The Gamecocks best performance this year so far came against their toughest and most physical opponent in Alabama. Carolina would also enjoy the speed advantage in either matchup against the Big Ten.
As we continue our trip down the SEC bowl hierarchy, if Carolina should end up at 4-4 and somehow lose out on the tie-breaker deal, the Peach Bowl (Chick-fil-A) is the next likely destination for the Gamecocks.
For many Carolina fans, this would be the ideal bowl destination other than one of the top tier bowls as it is played at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, closest of all bowls to Carolina.
For now, that would set up a battle between the Gamecocks and Hokies, Beamer Ball vs Beamer Ball. Interesting side story here is Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer's son coaches special teams for USC.
I don't see USC sliding further than the Peach Bowl, but for reference the next slate of bowls include the Gator Bowl, Music City Bowl, Liberty Bowl, and Birmingham Bowl.
To wrap it all up, the best scenario for USC would a BCS birth in the Sugar Bowl, while the worst case scenario would be the Peach Bowl in Atlanta, GA.
I think the most likely destination for South Carolina will be the Capital One Bowl in Orlando, FL. A New Year's Day bowl game is always a plus for recruiting and exposure, as long as you can pull out the victory of course.
Check out my projection for the rest of the SEC below and let me know who you think is going where in the comments below.
National Championship: Auburn
Sugar Bowl: Alabama
Capital One Bowl: South Carolina
Cotton Bowl: Arkansas
Outback Bowl: LSU
Peach Bowl (Chick-fil-a): Georgia
Gator Bowl: Florida
Music City Bowl: Kentucky
Liberty Bowl: Mississippi State
Birmingham Bowl: N/A