Gamecocks embrace bowling in Birmingham

The Gamecocks officially learned their bowl fate on Sunday night, accepting a bid to play in the Bowl in Birmingham, Alabama on January 2nd. Coach Steve Spurrier and the rest of his South Carolina Gamecock squad said they are excited about traveling to Legion Field to take on the Connecticut Huskies.

Spurrier said that the rich football tradition in the city of Birmingham is one of the factors that makes this bowl so attractive to his team. Spurrier has a history with legendary Legion Field, coaching there with the USFL as well as the Florida Gators in the early days of the SEC Championship Game.

"It should be a wonderful game in Birmingham,"said Spurrier. "We're looking forward to going there. Birmingham a few years ago was known as the football capital of the South. They have a tremendous history and tradition of college football in Birmingham."

Spurrier also had kind words for his opponent from the Big East, Connecticut. The Huskies have an identical 7-5 record, and had perhaps their biggest win in program history when they took down Notre Dame in South Bend on November 21. Spurrier was also very complimentary of UConn head coach Randy Edsall, whose team had five losses this season despite only being outscored by 15 points in those games.

"I know they've lost a bunch of close games this year," said Spurrier. "They play tough. Randy Edsall seems to be a bright, sharp young coach that does a great job there. You've got to admire what they've done there, they've only been playing Division I, what, seven or eight years? They've come a long way. They've done a super job there."

It seems that lobbying for a better bowl game has become a tradition at the end of every college football season. Just as teams across the nation use the media to try and elevate their bowl status, others simply accept their fate and make the best of the situation.

The Head Ball Coach made it very clear on Sunday that his team was willing to go wherever the selection committee told them to go, and would be very excited simply to be participating in postseason play.

"It didn't matter," noted Spurrier. "Really, at the end of the year you go wherever they tell you to go. There's no sense to worry about, you know, we want to go here, we want to go there, we hope we play this one or that one. It should be a heck of a game."

Defensive end and captain Cliff Matthews agreed with Spurrier in saying that the Gamecocks will be ready to play no matter what bowl game they are in or who they happen to be playing.

"Wherever they told us to go we would have been real excited about it. It really doesn't matter where we go or who we play."

Bowl games are special not only for players, but coaches as well. The team will get to spend time in the city of Birmingham prior to the game, as well as get in an extra couple weeks of practice. Spurrier said that one of the biggest advantages of going to a postseason game "is you get extra practices."

Of course the goal of those practices will be to improve the team. Spurrier has made it clear throughout the season that the team is always seeking improvement, and he mentioned that again as one of the goals from this point until after the bowl game.

Although beating arch-rival Clemson by a 17 point margin was a step in the right direction, Spurrier insisted that his team has to get better while preparing for the Huskies.

"Our basic goals this year were to win more than we lose," said Spurrier. "We've got almost a month to just keep pushing and coaching and see if we can get these guys to be better players between now and the bowl game and between now and next football season."

Connecticut staff, players still recovering from death of Jasper Howard

In October, the Connecticut family suffered a devastating loss when defensive back Jasper Howard was stabbed to death near campus following a party. Howard, who was from Miami, Florida, was a popular member of the team who had made contributions on defense as well as at punt returner for the Huskies.

Although not many coaches have experienced what Coach Edsall went through earlier this year, Spurrier did say that after losing a player at Florida during workouts to a heat related incident, it obviously takes a huge toll on a team.

"About 15 years ago we lost a player down at Florida during summer conditioning, he fell out and went into a coma," stated Spurrier. "The whole team went to his funeral, I think the same way UConn did. You handle it the best you can. You always have that player's memory with you as long as you live. I think they handled it the best way they could. I admire the way Coach Edsall and his guys handled that situation."

Fullback Pat DiMarco said that for him it would be hard to imagine losing a teammate like that, but he admired the way the Connecticut football team has come together in the face of an extremely difficult situation.

"That's hard to imagine. That's just a tough experience for all those guys out there. It would be tough to overcome and they did a pretty good job of doing it. A lot of teams could shut down and say we lost a teammate and a good friend, but they did a good job of overcoming it."

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