Chick-fil-A Bowl 2010: 10 Things You Need to Know About South Carolina Vs. FSU

Charlie MillsonCorrespondent IDecember 20, 2010

Chick-fil-A Bowl 2010: 10 Things You Need to Know About South Carolina Vs. FSU

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    Jim-bo! Jim-bo! Jim-bo!Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    The 2010 Chick-fil-A Bowl features two teams that were a single victory away from playing in BCS bowls.

    We're talking two of the better teams in their respective conferences in Florida State and South Carolina.

    The Seminoles come into the game ranked No. 23 in the nation, while the Gamecocks are No. 19. Both squads finished the regular season at 9-4.

    FSU's Jimbo Fisher said, "I've been to BCS bowls and to bowls all over the nation; no one takes care of you better than Chick-fil-A does. They make sure everything is done right."

    South Carolina's Steve Spurrier agreed: "This (bowl) is one of the best in the country. I hope we go there and play our best game of the year."

    The annual contest pitting an ACC team against an SEC team has produced some great contests in the recent past, and this year's promises even more of the same.

    Here are 10 things you need to know about this matchup.

FSU-USC Historical Head to Head

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    Spurrier faced this Bowden at USC and his daddy when at Florida.Grant Halverson/Getty Images

    Florida State and South Carolina have met 18 times before. The first meeting was in 1966.

    FSU holds a heavy advantage in the series; the Seminoles have won 15 games in 18 meetings.

    The last time these two teams met was 1991, however, and this year things are different for both squads.

    Gone is Bobby Bowden from the FSU sidelines, of course, and in 1991 Steve Spurrier was the coach at Florida. The decade of the 1990s saw Spurrier's Gator squads play Bowden's team in a series of classic match ups. The Ol' Ball Coach is 5-8-1 against FSU.

    But Spurrier never faced Bowden while coaching Carolina.

    This is also a different Gamecock team than Spurrier has ever had at USC.

    The only other time a USC team made it to this bowl resulted in a loss (1969); Florida State has been two times before and is 1-1 in those games.

Both Teams Are Their Respective Conference Runners-Up

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    Yeah, ok; the last time USC played in the Georgia Dome, things did not go well to say the least.Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images

    For the first time the Chick-fil-A Bowl (including the time it was played as the Peach Bowl) features the teams that were the conference representatives' runners-up. 

    South Carolina was humiliated by Auburn in the SEC Championship Game earlier this month, 56-17. Yet the Gamecocks went into the game as the representative of the SEC's Eastern division.

    Of their four losses on the season, three of them came at the hands of BCS teams (Arkansas and Auburn twice).

    For the Seminoles, the ACC title game loss at the hands of Virginia Tech was much closer, 44-33. Two of FSU's losses came to BCS teams (Oklahoma beat the Seminoles early in the season).

    As one might expect, the fact that these two teams finished second in their respective conferences means that this bowl is only one of three that features two ranked teams outside of the BCS bowls.

The Two Teams Are Statistical Twins in Most Categories

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    Yeah, we couldn't believe our eyes, either.Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Take a look at these numbers:

    Record 9-4 & 9-4; Points Scored 416 & 413; Points/Game 32.0 & 31.8; First Downs 266 & 256; Opp. First Downs 242 & 258; Third Down Conversions 49% & 49%; Opp. Third Down Conversions 40% & 41%: Yards Rushing 2,022 & 2,182; Passes Attempted 353 & 376; Passes Completed 231 & 238; Yards Passing 3,063 & 2,848.

    Tired of that? Yeah, so are we. Do you know which team is which? Does it matter? 

    No, not when the stats are that close. It's hard to distinguish them, isn't it? So to get a better grip on this game, we have to look at some intangibles outside of statistics.

    For those who simply can't get enough: Total Yards 5,085 & 5,030; Avg. Yards/Play 6.0 & 6.1.

    Advantage: Push.

    Oh, and by the way, in all these stats, USC is listed first.

FSU Hasn't Played Inside Since '04, but USC Is Playing Back-to-Back Games Inside

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    The Georgia Dome, all decked out for the CFA Kickoff Classic.Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    We take it for granted that football teams play in domes, it seems. But that's usually the NFL. Colleges, on the other hand, almost always play outside.

    Except when it comes to some bowl games like this one.

    South Carolina was in the Georgia Dome only three weeks ago when they allowed Auburn to use them as tackling dummies in the SEC Championship Game.

    So the Gamecocks will be playing back-to-back games inside—and only their third game indoors in the over 100-year history of the program.

    But Florida State hasn't played indoors in six years.

    Will it make a difference? Perhaps. The largest difference it may make is that Florida State is able to run and pass better than it might have outside. The speed of the team will be more noticeable, perhaps, on the Georgia Dome turf.

    We know South Carolina can play poorly inside when the opponent is Auburn. The question is, how will they fare when the other team is Florida State?

Both Teams Played Florida and Clemson in November

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    FSU played somewhat better against the Gators than did the Gamecocks.Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    When looking for comparisons between these two teams, one begins often by looking at recent common opponents. Both schools, for example, played the Florida Gators during the month of November.

    Both teams beat Florida too.

    Ditto Clemson.

    Let's look at a quick recap of both games. First, South Carolina. Marcus Lattimore piled up 212 rushing yards and three TD scampers to propel USC to a 36-14 victory over the Gators. The Gamecock D allowed only 64 yards rushing by the fleet-footed Florida backfield.

    The Clemson game was also impressive but was also a closer struggle, with the Gamecocks rolling up a stellar defensive performance en route to a 29-7 win. The Gamecocks were led by 150 receiving yards by Alshon Jeffery.

    Next, Florida State. The FSU-Florida game for 2010 was the Christian Ponder show; the Seminole quarterback threw for 221 yards and three touchdowns, two of them coming in the second quarter of what became a 31-7 runaway for FSU.

    The Seminoles' game against Clemson was much closer than USC's was. Playing without Ponder, the 'Noles won 16-13; the difference was a 55-yard field goal. But the FSU defense was stout too, and that helped seal the win.

    Given that FSU and USC both played Clemson and Florida recently, and given the fact that both games were somewhat similar in nature for each team, it seems accurate that the game has a three-point spread according to most odds makers.

    What all that doesn't say is that USC's wins were on the road, while FSU's wins were at home.

    Advantage: South Carolina.

Marcus Lattimore Has Been Quiet for Two Games Straight

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    We see no sophomore slump for Lattimore.Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images

    After torching Florida for over 200 yards rushing and three touchdowns, Marcus Lattimore has had eight quarters of relative quiet.

    First against Clemson to end the regular season and then against Auburn in the SEC Championship Game, the SEC's Freshman of the Year has produced no—that's zero—rushing touchdowns and less than 140 yards total for both games.

    What happened? Was the 13-game schedule too much for the young man? Maybe. Or maybe his offensive line grew weary of all the pounding.

    For whatever reason, Lattimore was less like himself than at any point in this season over the past two games.

    Take away USC's rushing game, and what do you have? You have Steve Spurrier's old Carolina teams that started strong but finished poorly. If that team shows up against Florida State, it'll be a long night for the Ol' Ball Coach and his fantastic freshman.

Christian Ponder Versus the Gamecock Defensive Backfield—If He Plays

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    We like this kid's style and poise.Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    What South Carolina looks like on film must have Florida State's quarterback Christian Ponder drooling.

    The Gamecocks pass defense ranks 107th nationally. They give up over 250 yards passing per game.

    Cam Newton found out how easy it was to beat Carolina by air, as he threw for over 330 yards against them in the SEC title game.

    Ponder has thrown for over 2,000 yards this year and for 20 touchdowns. He manages the game well, has a beautiful throwing motion and releases a nice thrown ball.

    But he's recovering from the second surgery on his elbow (technically not an elbow injury, however) that kept him out of the ACC Championship Game. He has been held out of early practices for the bowl game, but he's scheduled to return to practice the day after Christmas.

    Still, if he's healthy enough to play, Ponder should find time and opportunity to pick apart the Gamecocks' Achilles heel—their defensive backfield.

Will the Real Stephen Garcia Please Stand Up?

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    The more we see him play, the more we understand Spurrier's shaky confidence in him.Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    South Carolina's Stephen Garcia plays like a heartbeat looks on an EKG: He's up one second and down the next.

    We've said it before, and nothing has changed about Garcia's play to make us change our minds. He's the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of college football. 

    When he's on—as he was against then-No. 1 Alabama—he's unstoppable.

    When he's off—as he was against Auburn in the SEC title game, throwing two picks with only 170 yards—he's instantly forgettable.

    And then he has one of the greatest targets in the history of the college game to throw to. Alshon Jeffery is all-everything when it comes to wide receiver, but it seems that sometimes Garcia forgets about him.

    If the Gamecock quarterback starts poorly against the Seminoles, don't be surprised if Steve Spurrier gives him the hook early and replaces him with freshman signal caller Conner Shaw.

The Winner Gets More Than a Peachy Trophy

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    The trophy's nice, but a BCS game would be nicer.Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    What would a Chick-fil-A Bowl win mean to these two programs?

    Sure, a 10-win season would be nice for either squad. That'll look good and leave a nice taste in the returning players' mouths come spring ball.

    But these are two programs at major crossroads in their conferences. Each team, as stated, was a win away from a BCS bowl.

    Each will not like settling for runner-up status again next season, and a loss could give credence to a "second-best" mentality in any program. But there are other reasons why a loss would hurt either team here.

    Let's think of it this way. South Carolina, for example, is in the running for the nation's No. 1 recruit, Jadeveon Clowney. Would a loss here help the Gamecocks land him or hurt them, especially if their rival in the Clowney sweepstakes, Alabama, takes care of Michigan State? So recruiting issues are at risk here too. In fact, Spurrier referred to recruiting in his bowl press conference.

    Florida being one of the hottest and most contested recruiting states, you'd think FSU would have more to lose here despite winning the mythical "state championship" this year.

    True, teams can return from a devastating bowl loss and succeed the following year; Alabama last year, anyone?

    Yet a defeat for either team means relegation to the middle of the pack in that team's conference. Finishing 9-5 for South Carolina would add to the frustration surrounding the program and take much of the shine off an otherwise great season for the Gamecocks.

    For Florida State, a loss would be seen as an indicator that the ACC is still the SEC's vastly inferior little brother. It would solidify the concept that the Seminoles are not nearly as good as other ACC teams such as Virginia Tech or North Carolina or that they still can't play with the "big boys" (as Oklahoma tried to prove early on).

    Thus, there's much more at stake here than a bowl game trophy.

The Chick-fil-A Bowl Game: Prediction

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    Like this logo? It's peachy, isn't it?

    Based on recent performance, and assuming Christian Ponder will be back, we like Florida State in this one.

    It will be difficult for USC to bounce back from the disaster against Auburn in the SEC title game, and FSU played increasingly better down the stretch and had nothing to be ashamed of against Va. Tech playing without its starting QB.

    The Chick-fil-A Bowl 2010 champ? Florida State will find Atlanta simply peachy, thank you, by a score of 30-21 over South Carolina.

    Now in the 43rd annual playing of this bowl game, the event used to be known as the Peach Bowl. Beginning with the December 2006 game, Chick-fil-A assumed complete naming rights to the game in a five-year, $22 million deal for sponsorship. The ACC gave the game the rights to choose its second team after the BCS selection from that conference, but the game has only the No. 5 pick from the SEC.

    Yet the game is a huge success in Atlanta, having sold out the last 13 games. It is, in fact, the best attended non-BCS game over the past decade.

    And the payout? Cumulatively, it ranks eighth in all bowls played.

    The game will be played Friday, December 31st at 7 pm Eastern time in Atlanta. The game will be televised by ESPN and will not have another bowl game vying for viewers during its time slot.