USC, FSU each aiming for 10th win
Gamecocks' talented backfield faces tough Seminole defense
The Associated Press
ATLANTA -- South Carolina is returning to the scene of its worst loss to face Florida State, which hopes to have Christian Ponder back, in the Chick-fil-A Bowl on Friday night.
South Carolina's season includes wins over Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Clemson, but coach Steve Spurrier's team was overwhelmed in its 56-17 loss to Auburn in the Dec. 4 Southeastern Conference championship game at the Georgia Dome.
The loss kept No. 19 South Carolina (9-4) out of a BCS bowl and led to a second consecutive visit to Atlanta. The Gamecocks say they must have a better showing for their fans this time.
"I think we need to redeem ourselves," said defensive tackle Travian Robertson.
Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher on Thursday would not confirm plans to start Ponder at quarterback. Still, Ponder said he has no swelling or pain in the right elbow which kept him out of the Seminoles' loss to Virginia Tech in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game.
"He can play. He'll play in the bowl game, there's no doubt," Fisher said, adding he planned to talk to Ponder and backup quarterback EJ Manuel later Thursday.
Fisher said Ponder had "no adversity to his practices" this week.
"These last two days he's really had zip on the ball and the ball's whistling out again and he's making all the feel throws," Fisher said.
"He says it's felt as good as it has, probably, for 10 or 12 weeks."
Manuel, who was named MVP of Florida State's Gator Bowl win over West Virginia a year ago, could share time with Ponder at quarterback for the No. 23 Seminoles (9-4). Manuel threw two interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown, when he started in the loss to Virginia Tech.
Ponder, a senior, has a career-high 20 touchdown passes this season, but his 2,038 yards passing and 62.2 completion percentage are down from his junior season.
Fisher may plan to play or even start Manuel to provide a bridge for the sophomore taking over the starting job in 2011. Manuel set a career high with 288 yards passing in the ACC championship game loss to Virginia Tech. He adds an option threat as a runner to the offense.
Spurrier, sitting with Fisher at a news conference on Thursday, has a history of alternating quarterbacks at Florida and South Carolina, so he offered a suggestion to the Florida State coach.
"You ever thought about every other play? Like we did?" Spurrier asked, laughing. "You're not into that yet?"
Said Fisher, also laughing: "I've got enough problems with one."
Each team is pursuing its 10th win to signal a rise as a team to watch in 2011. South Carolina's only 10-win season came in 1984. Florida State has not had a 10-win season since 2003.
Despite being a former Gators coach, Spurrier said he's not motivated by the chance to beat his old rival Florida State. It will be his first game against the Seminoles since 2001.
The Gamecocks won their first SEC East Division title this season, finally moving past Florida, Georgia and Tennessee.
South Carolina will return most of its starters next season, and a win over Florida State would provide momentum for another try at the program's first SEC championship.
South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia, who has started in 27 consecutive games, threw 20 touchdown passes to lead an offense that also featured tailback Marcus Lattimore.
Lattimore, one of the nation's top freshmen, has 1,198 yards rushing and 19 touchdowns and was especially important in some of the Gamecocks' biggest wins. Lattimore had 37 carries for 182 yards and two touchdowns against Georgia and 40 carries for 212 yards and three touchdowns against Florida. He also rushed for two touchdowns against Alabama but had only 16 carries for 84 yards and no touchdowns against Auburn.
Florida State's running game is more balanced, with three backs - Chris Thompson, Ty Jones and Jermaine Thomas - sharing the carries.
No. 19 South Carolina (9-4) vs. No. 23 Florida State (9-4) at 7:30 p.m. (ET) on ESPN
- Series Record: Florida State leads 15-3.
- Last Meeting: Florida State won 38-10 in Tallahassee, Fla., on Nov. 9, 1991.
What's at Stake
South Carolina is looking for only the second 10-win season in the school history and the first since 1984. The Gamecocks, playing their second consecutive game in the Georgia Dome, will try to make up for a lopsided 56-17 loss to Auburn in the Southeastern Conference championship game. Florida State is playing for its first 10-win season since 2003 and is trying to give first-year coach Jimbo Fisher his first bowl victory.
Seminoles RBs Chris Thompson, Ty Jones and Jermaine Thomas vs. Gamecocks run defense. Florida State topped 200 yards rushing in four consecutive wins this season, and the trio combined for 11 rushing touchdowns. South Carolina ranks first in the SEC and ninth in the nation in rushing defense, allowing only 104.3 yards on the ground per game.
Players to Watch
South Carolina: Freshman RB Marcus Lattimore has 1,198 yards rushing and a school-record 19 touchdowns. He emerged as the Gamecocks' workhorse running back and yet did not have a fumble all season. Lattimore showed how he can dominate a game when he had 40 carries for 212 yards rushing and three touchdowns in a win over Florida. George Rogers is the only South Carolina back to rush for more yards in a season.
Florida State: Sophomore DE Brandon Jenkins has 13 sacks to help Florida State lead the nation with 46. Jenkins, in his first year as a starter, is tied for third in the nation in sacks and leads the Seminoles with 19.5 tackles for losses.
Facts and Figures
Florida State has six consecutive wins in the series. ... South Carolina has lost its last two bowl games under Spurrier, leaving the coach 7-9 in bowl games. ... FSU QB Christian Ponder has 16 touchdown passes and only one interception in the red zone this season. ...The Chick-fil-A Bowl always matches ACC and SEC teams, but this is the first time the bowl has had the loser of each conference's championship game. ... This is the 14th consecutive sellout for the bowl. ... Spurrier is 5-8-1 all-time against Florida State, all as Florida's coach.