Spurrier: USC excited about Outback Bowl bid

The Gamecocks have accepted a bid to play in the 2009 Outback Bowl against Iowa, announced coach Steve Spurrier Sunday evening. Carolina will be making its third trip to the Tampa, FL bowl in nine years. Spurrier has taken the Gamecocks to a bowl in three of his four seasons, but the Outback Bowl will be the first New Year's Day game for USC in the Head Ball Coach's tenure.

"We have been officially invited to participate in the Outback Bowl," said Spurrier. "Jim McVay, the director down there has invited us, and we are extremely pleased and happy to be going to Tampa, Florida to play Iowa in the Outback Bowl this year. This is one of the best bowls in the country, a New Year's Day bowl. Our school has not played in a lot of these, so it is maybe the best bowl game in school history."

Although the Outback Bowl had been expected to select the Gamecocks for quite some time, Carolina had to sweat things out a little on Sunday. Outback Bowl officials were originally scheduled to announce their selection at 5:00 PM, with USC scheduling a press conference at 5:30. Instead, it was 5:49 when the announcement was finally made, though fortunately, nobody had to throw away all the "Gamecocks and Hawkeyes accept bid to Outback Bowl" information packets that had already been printed.

South Carolina and Spurrier have strong history with Tampa and the Outback Bowl. The Gamecocks got two of the biggest wins in school history with their back-to-back Outback Bowl wins over Ohio State in 2001-2002. Spurrier played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFL in 1976, and got his first coaching job with the USFL's Tampa Bay Bandits (from 1983-1985). Not coincidentally, McVay, the Outback Bowl President/CEO, was the Bandits' media relations director.

"I've known him since 1983," said Spurrier. "A lot of times when I'm in Tampa I give him a call. We were good friends during the Bandits days."

At 7-5, the Gamecocks' record is not typical of teams playing on January 1st. However, this year the SEC had two elite teams, Florida and Alabama, and a bunch of average teams, which allowed Carolina to move up to the Outback Bowl ahead of 7-5 LSU and 8-4 Ole Miss.

"It worked out that 7-5 ended up being pretty good in relation to the other SEC teams. We thank the Outback Bowl for picking us. There was another 7-5 I guess they could have gone for, but they chose South Carolina."

What made the difference, in Spurrier's mind, were the Gamecock fans. In the previous two Outback Bowls, Carolina brought an estimated 30,000 fans to the Tampa area. Outback Bowl officials are certainly hoping to recreate that enthusiasm.

"I think what really helped was when South Carolina played there in the past and all the fans that came. That certainly is what the bowl people want to see, they want to see fans follow their team. Our fans have been super down there."

Spurrier noted that he has never participated in the Outback Bowl or a game at Raymond James Stadium. He was mostly correct. He has visited Raymond James Stadium, which replaced the old Tampa Stadium where he played in 1998, once as coach of the Washington Redskins. It was a preseason game, though, so it doesn't really count.

"I've been lucky to coach all those other [bowls] in Florida so this will be a first for me," he said. "I'm looking forward to it and I know our team will be certainly looking forward to it also."

The Gamecocks will be down two coaches for the Outback Bowl after the firing of offensive line coach Jim Hunt and the departure of quarterback coach David Reaves. Spurrier had initially announced the hiring of Woody McCorvey, but that hiring lasted less than a day. Instead, Carolina will elevate graduate assistant and former Gamecock player Cedric Williams to coach the offensive line, and Spurrier will handle Reaves' former duties.

"We're confident that Ced Williams can handle the offensive line," Spurrier said. "I'll try my best to handle the quarterbacks and try to get us a good, solid game plan."

Spurrier said Williams is not auditioning for a permanent coaching position, but the fact remains that Williams has a chance to make a name for himself as a coach. It is a big opportunity for someone with no full-time coaching experience. He will not be alone, as a fellow former Gamecock lineman, Gurminder Thind, will assist Williams.

"He's been right there all year, and I think he'll have Gurminder out there," said Spurrier. "He's a weight room GA and he can go out there and hold the dummies a little bit. We'll worry about that down the road. Ced is certainly excited about working with the O-line the next two or three weeks."

This will be the Gamecocks' third appearance in the Outback Bowl. Carolina also played in the 1979 Hall of Fame Bowl in Birmingham, which eventually moved to Tampa and became the Outback Bowl. However, the Outback Bowl does not recognize records from the old Hall of Fame Bowl, meaning Carolina has still made more appearances in the Gator Bowl (four) than any other bowl.

Iowa is also making its third appearance in the Tampa bowl. The Hawkeyes played Florida in both previous games, losing 31-24 in 2006 and wining 37-17 in 2004. Iowa is 8-4 on the season, and their biggest claim to fame is handing Penn State its only loss of the season. The Hawkeyes also have the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year in running back Shonn Greene. Defensive tackle Mitch King was also named Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year.

The Gamecocks have final exams this week, and will hold their first bowl practice on Saturday. They will practice eight or nine days before Christmas, and then travel to Tampa on December 26.

Tickets are on sale now at GamecocksOnline.com and will be available at the ticket office starting at 9 AM Monday morning. Tickets are $65 each.

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