For the 29th consecutive season Florida State will take part in a bowl game, as the Seminoles battle the South Carolina Gamecocks in the 2010 Chick-fil-A Bowl at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
The Gamecocks' bowl resume' is a bit shorter, as they will be making just their third straight bowl appearance, and the 16th in school history. Steve Spurrier has coached the Gamecocks in their last four postseason matchups, but has just a 1-3 ledger to show for his efforts. Coach Spurrier, who is 7-9 in his career in bowl games, saw his squad fall in the Papajohns.com bowl this past season to Connecticut, 20-7.
This will be the first bowl contest against Florida Sate for South Carolina, but coach Spurrier is 1-1 against the Seminoles, and in the 1997 Sugar Bowl the Ol' ball coach defeated FSU, 52-20, leading Florida to the 1996 National Championship. However, Spurrier knows that was a long time ago, and just wants to have his players ready for what should be an exciting contest.
"It should be a heckuva matchup," said coach Spurrier. "We're excited. We didn't play our best last time in the Georgia Dome. We'll see if we can compete and look like a first class team the way we were most of the season. We're fired up about it. Florida State is a great team. It's almost the exact same year they've had that we've had (at) 9-4 and (they) lost the conference championship game."
The Gamecocks began this season with three straight victories, but that was followed by a tough, 35-27 loss to Auburn, which is preparing for the National Championship. However, coach Spurrier's squad bounced back with a victory over the defending national champs, the Alabama Crimson Tide. Over the next four games the Gamecocks were a model of inconsistency, posting a 2-2 ledger, but the team got back on track, winning its last three matchups, including a 36-14 decision over Florida. South Carolina's run towards the end of the year landed the team in the SEC title game where the Gamecocks would have another shot at Auburn. Unfortunately the Tigers were much tougher the second time around, leaving South Carolina with a 56-17 loss. Despite the loss in the title game South Carolina still has a shot for only its second 10-win season in school history.
Just like the Gamecocks, Florida State finished with nine wins during the regular season and made a trip to the ACC championship. The Seminoles began their season with a win over Samford, followed by a 30-point loss to Oklahoma. However, after the embarrassing performance against the Sooners, coach Jimbo Fisher's team reeled off five consecutive wins before heading into its bye week. The week of rest must have ruined the teams momentum, because Florida State came out and promptly lost back-to-back games against NC State (28-24) and North Carolina (37-35). The Seminoles bounced back in a big way however, winning three straight games, including a decisive 31-7 decision over rival Florida. Unfortunately, the Seminoles were unable to remain in the win column as they fell to Virginia Tech, 44-33 in the ACC title matchup.
This makes it 29 straight appearances for Florida State in a bowl game, and the 40th overall. The Seminoles are 23-14-2 all-time in those bowl matchups, and that includes a 1-1 mark in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl. Florida State has won three of its last four bowl games, including two in a row. The last two victories came against Wisconsin (42-13) in the Champs Sports Bowl, and last year FSU was able to get past Virginia, 33-21, in the Gator Bowl. This might be the first bowl game for Fisher as the head coach of FSU, but this is definitely not his first rodeo, especially in this bowl.
"I've been to that bowl three or four times in my career," Fisher said. "They do a phenomenal job. Anything involved with Chick-fil-A, they're first class. ... It's one of the best bowl games you can go to, the way they treat you, the hospitality. Atlanta is a great town and playing in the dome, it's a great environment there and it's a great atmosphere. And again, playing an SEC foe, so we'll have a great opponent and look forward to that challenge."
The Seminoles have dominated the all-time series against South Carolina, winning 15 of the 18 matchups. However, this will be the first meeting at a neutral site. The last time these two schools tangled was back in 1991, and at the time Florida State was number one in the nation, and proved it by punishing the Gamecocks 38-10.
The Gamecocks have come a long way offensively since coach Spurrier has taken over in Columbia, and reached even new heights this year, thanks to a well balanced attack, which produced 32.0 ppg. Leading the charge for Spurrier's offense was freshman tailback Marcus Lattimore, who rumbled for 1,198 yards and 17 touchdowns. Lattimore, who earned Freshman of the Year honors in the SEC, and also landed on the All-SEC First Team, led a ground attack for South Carolina, which churned out 155.5 ypg.
What helped Lattimore's success was the play of the passing attack, which was not overwhelming, but did a strong enough job to keep opposing defenses from keying on the young tailback. Stephen Garcia completed 65.1 percent of his passes during the regular season and finished with 2,816 yards and 20 touchdowns. Garcia leaned heavily on sophomore wideout Alshon Jeffery, who was tabbed on the All-SEC First Team, along with Lattimore. Jeffery really came into his own this season, and grew stronger down the stretch with the end result being a season in which the talented wideout hauled in 79 receptions for 1,387 yards and nine touchdowns.
High profile players such as Lattimore and Jeffery give the media plenty of reasons to gush over the offense at South Carolina, but what has flown under the radar at times, has been the performance of this defense, which is limiting the opposition to just 22.9 ppg. South Carolina has done an excellent job against the run this season, holding the opposition to just 104.3 ypg on a mere 3.2 yards per attempt. However, not everything has gone smoothly for this squad, which has endured plenty of problems against the pass.
Playing in the SEC is not the easiest thing for any defensive backfield, and the Gamecocks suffered the brunt of its conference's top passing attacks throughout the season and the end result was 253.6 ypg thrown against this unit and 22 touchdowns. South Carolina only collected nine interceptions, but was helped by its pressure up front, mainly from Devin Taylor. Taylor, who was selected to the SEC's All-Second Team squad, racked up 12 TFLs and finished with 7.5 sacks. Taylor, along with Melvin Ingram (eight sacks) will need to create tremendous pressure to keep the defensive backfield from falling to Florida State's passing attack.
Just like South Carolina, the Seminoles possess a very balanced offensive attack, but the success of the offense against the Gamecocks will hinge on the health of quarterback Christian Ponder. Florida State, which averaged 31.8 ppg on the season, was led by Ponder during the year, as the signal caller threw for 2,038 yards and 20 touchdowns in 11 contests.
Clearly Ponder's numbers are not overwhelming, but he has done a nice job leading the offense, and managing the games. Ponder does not possess a main target like Garcia, but instead the quarterback has a few different players he can rely on, beginning with Bert Reed, who led the team with 56 catches and 589 yards. Taiwan Easterling hauled in 41 passes, while Willie Haulstead paced the squad with six touchdown receptions.
Similar to the receiving corps, the rushing attack for Florida State does not have one main option to lean on, but instead uses a few different backs to get the job done. Those running backs certainly got the job done, helping the Seminoles rack up 167.8 ypg on 4.8 yards per attempt. Chris Thompson has rumbled for 698 yards and five scores, while Ty Jones also found the end zone five times, to go along with 520 rushing yards. Jermaine Thomas, who scored a team-best six touchdowns on the ground, is questionable for the bowl game due to a knee injury.
The offense was strong this season, but FSU ran into consistency issues at times. That was not the case for the defense, which was at its best throughout the season.
Florida State's success this year can be attributed to a defense, which held the opposition to just 19.8 ppg. The Seminoles stymied the opponent's rushing attack, limiting foes to only 127.9 ypg on 3.3 ypc. The backfield for FSU did have some trouble stopping the pass, as teams threw for 221.2 ypg, but the defense only allowed 16 touchdown passes, while hauling in 12 interceptions. A huge help for the team's play in this area was its pressure up front, as Florida State led the nation with 46 sacks. Brandon Jenkins, who was selected to the All-ACC First Team, led the Seminoles with 19.5 TFLs and 13 sacks. The Seminoles will need to put similar pressure on Garcia, making the Gamecocks one dimensional. If FSU is capable of achieving that, they should be able to keep this game close.
South Carolina and Florida State finished in the top five in sacks, so the defensive lines will play a pivotal role in this matchup. Also, both teams have solid rushing attacks, but the question lies on who will perform better, South Carolina's sensational freshman, or Florida State's three-headed monster. Usually three is better than one, but that is not the case in this contest, as Lattimore should lead the Gamecocks to a victory.