Bowl bits: USC seniors going out strong

December 28, 2012 

The South Carolina senior class can look back over its accomplishments with a great deal of satisfaction as the Outback Bowl career finale approaches.

The Jan. 1 game against Michigan will be a school-record fifth consecutive bowl game. These seniors also have piled up a school-record 37 wins over the past four seasons, including a first of back-to-back double-digit victories in 2011 and 2012. Now they’ll try to win bowl games in consecutive seasons for the second time in school history.

Linebacker Shaq Wilson called it exciting that these seniors have seen their hard work pay off in so many different ways.

“Being a national program that gets a lot of exposure and having people recognize you, I feel like we’re doing that,” Wilson said. “We’re trying to get 11-win seasons back-to-back, something that has never been done here.”

They also have a shot at another Top 10 ranking in the final Associated Press poll. The Gamecocks finished No. 9 at the conclusion of last season and enter the Outback Bowl ranked No. 11.

“I feel like we’ve done what we came here to do for the most part, besides winning a (conference) championship, of course,” tight end Justice Cunningham said. “We came to turn the program around and show everybody South Carolina can play football.”

But despite falling shy of an SEC title, they can point to other markers that make their class the best.

“We wanted to go higher than this, but we had a great season. We’re the winningest group in South Carolina history so that’s something to be very proud of. The senior class has never lost to Clemson, and that’s something we take pride in saying,” safety D.J. Swearinger said. “We turned the tide around here, and that’s something we said that we wanted when all of us committed in ’09.”

Now they would like nothing more than to beat No. 19 Michigan (8-4) just as they did against Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl last season. After the team lost three consecutivestraight bowl games before last season, the seniors learned they like the feeling of winning a whole lot better.

“The first two years, losing the last game left a sour taste in your mouth,” Cunningham said. “Winning gives you more positive energy going into the next season.”

BOWL HISTORY

South Carolina scored its first consecutive wins in bowl games with a dramatic 31-28 victory against Ohio State in the 2002 Outback Bowl in Tampa.

With the score tied and the clock running out, USC kicker Daniel Weaver lofted a 42-yard field goal that barely cleared the crossbar. That allowed the Gamecocks to pull out a win in a game that nearly slipped away.

Ohio State quarterback Steve Bellisari led his team from a 28-0 third-quarter deficit to tie the score. But he was picked off on a final drive by USC cornerback Sheldon Brown, who returned the interception to the OSU 29 with 23 seconds to play. Four plays later, Weaver sealed the deal.

USC quarterback Phil Petty, who was named the game’s MVP, threw for 227 yards and two touchdowns, while running back Andrew Pinnock scored twice. The Gamecocks finished 9-3 and ranked No. 13 nationally.

SATURDAY’S SCHDEULE

11 a.m. to 1 p.m. — Practice at Jefferson High

2 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. — Joint news conference for the head coaches

3:30 p.m. — Busch Gardens team outing

QUOTE-UNQUOTE

“I always enjoy the bowl games. It gives us time to get out of South Carolina a little bit, see something new, and have fun in another city.” - Justice Cunningham on getting to keep playing after the regular season ends

Compiled by Neil White

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Sights and sounds

D.J. Swearinger

Ace Sanders

Shaq Wilson

Justice Cunningham

Byron Jerideau

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