Outback Bowl pleased to have USC
Outback Bowl official Bruce Poli was present to officially extend an invitation to South Carolina to play in the Outback Bowl against Iowa. There was a tense moment after he invited the Gamecocks when Steve Spurrier hesitated to accept, seeking confirmation from athletics director Eric Hyman.
"We are pleased to invite Coach Steve Spurrier and the University of South Carolina Gamecocks to play in the Outback Bowl on January 1, 2009, at 11:00 in the morning, broadcast on ESPN," Poli said, making sure to get in the name of every sponsor. "Congratulations and we are looking forward to having you in Tampa."
"Thank you very much, and we gladly accept," he said, then turned to Hyman. "Don't we, Eric?"
"We certainly do," Hyman smiled.
Poli said the Gamecocks were an easy choice to represent the SEC in the Outback Bowl because of the reputation Carolina fans have for traveling well, especially to Tampa. The Outback Bowl gets the SEC's third selection, which allowed officials to choose from Carolina, LSU (also 7-5) and Ole Miss (8-4). However, Ole Miss was never really considered, allowing the Rebels to play in the Cotton Bowl, which gets first choice of an SEC West team in concert with the Outback's selection. That left LSU and Carolina, and Poli said bowl officials always prefer the Eastern team.
"Gamecocks are great travelers," he said. "There is a great fan base here. They've done fantastic the last two times they were down here in our bowl."
Adding to the preference for an SEC East team is the current economy. With many fans being forced to tighten their purse strings, longer travel distances could prove especially costly and keep the fans at home.
"I think all bowls are looking at that right now," Poli said. "The economy is what it is. It's tough times so we're looking at trying to make it easy for fans."
The Hawkeyes will have a much longer trip than the Gamecocks, facing a 22 hour drive compared to an 8 hour drive. Like Carolina, Iowa will be making its third appearance in the Outback Bowl, and Hawkeye fans have established a similar track record for traveling well.
"Iowa travels very well," Poli said. "They travel as well as South Carolina does, so we're expecting good crowds and both teams to be well represented."
As important as selling tickets to out of town fans is, bowls must also find a way to drum up local interest. A quick look at the Outback Bowl website leaves no doubt as to how officials plan to do that: the home page features pictures of Spurrier and quarterback Stephen Garcia to represent Carolina. Spurrier of course is a legend in the state of Florida, and he has considerable ties to Tampa, where he played and coached.
"That's a great thing to have Coach Spurrier coming back to Tampa where he's been before," Poli said. "It's a big thing and it's huge for us."
Garcia certainly does not have the name recognition that Spurrier does, but he is a Tampa native. Poli and the rest of the Outback Bowl selection committee are well aware of that fact, and are hoping for a little hometown magic.
"We know him and he's got a good history in Tampa," said Poli. "He did a lot of good things in prep school down there. It's going to be great to have Stephen back in Tampa and showing what he can do on the college level."
The Gamecocks are off this week for final exams. They will hold their first bowl practice on Saturday, then take a few days off before really getting down to business next Tuesday. Carolina will then practice every day until December 22, break for Christmas, and fly down to Tampa on December 26.
"This is finals week here at our University, and players are working out on their own," said Spurrier. "I went by the weight room and saw two or three guys in there. They're on their own for four or five days here, and then we're going to practice on Saturday."
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