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Capital One Bowl Preview: South Carolina, Nebraska and the Different Kinds of Expectations

The trophy for beating Clemson was nice and all, but the Gamecocks are going for a little more this year.
The trophy for beating Clemson was nice and all, but the Gamecocks are going for a little more this year.

Capital One Bowl, Jan. 2, 1 p.m. ET, ESPN

When was the last time that South Carolina had a 10-win season and it ended up being mildly disappointing? The last and only other time the Gamecocks had a 10-win season, actually, when their only regular-season loss came to unranked Navy and knocked South Carolina out of the national championship race. The more things change.

After all, this Gamecock team was supposed to be the favorite to repeat as SEC East Champions, and maybe sneak out a win in the Georgia Dome against the team from the SEC West, and just maybe pull the upset in the title game. But that all went by the boards when an upset loss to Auburn and a defeat against Arkansas helped deep-six South Carolina's hopes for a second straight trip to Atlanta.

The question is whether the Gamecocks can do something they've never done before in more than a century of playing football: Win 11 games. To do that, they'll have to win the bowl game, and the truth is that Steve Spurrier has never done a particularly good job of that in South Carolina. The Spurrier-era Gamecocks are 1-4 in bowl appearances, and haven't won a postseason game since 2006. And they haven't even really been all that competitive; South Carolina lost its last three bowl games by an average of 14.3 points. (Spurrier was an even .500 in bowl games when he coached at Florida.)

Was Nebraska also a disappointment? Well, that depends at least in part upon whom you ask. The Cornhuskers' 9-3 record isn't something for most teams to sniff at, but two of the three losses were by lopsided margins. The Huskers lost to Wisconsin 48-17 and to Michigan 45-17; the only competitive defeat was a 28-25 upset against Northwestern. it will not surprise you to learn that they got to 9-3 with a great running attack and a solid defense, this being Nebraska.

The big losses -- all of the losses, actually -- came to teams that were far more explosive offensively than South Carolina has been this year. But there's no doubt that the Gamecocks will be the best defense, at least on paper, that Nebraska has faced all year. There's a reason to be nervous with South Carolina's track record, but give the edge to the Gamecocks for now.

South Carolina 21, Nebraska 17