A week ago, BCS analyst Brad Edwards of ESPN had South Carolina headed to New Orleans for a matchup with Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl.
Now he has the Gamecocks falling to the Chick-fil-A Bowl, even though they improved to 8-2 with a convincing 38-20 victory over Arkansas at Williams-Brice Stadium last week.
What happened? Johnny Football.
Texas A&M's stunning 29-24 victory over previously unbeaten and top-ranked Alabama in Tuscaloosa, a surreal win skillfully orchestrated by freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel, altered the bowl landscape for multiple SEC teams, USC among them.
In the wake of the Aggies' huge win over the Crimson Tide, most analysts, including Edwards and Mark Schlabach of ESPN, are forecasting that the Gamecocks will land in the Chick-fil-A Bowl on Dec. 31. Both predict Georgia will upend Alabama (which must beat Auburn to win the SEC West) in the SEC Championship Game and head to New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 2.
"Without losing a game, (USC) went from Sugar to Chick-fil-A just because of the Alabama loss and the way it changed the pecking order (of SEC teams) for the bowls," Edwards told GamecockCentral.com on Tuesday.
Regardless of which team wins the SEC Championship Game, the conference will probably get two teams into BCS bowls. Edwards concurred with GamecockCentral.com that the second SEC team into the BCS should be Texas A&M because of the loud buzz and the marketability of Manziel, fashioned by the resounding victory over Alabama.
With the Alabama-Georgia winner and Texas A&M comfortably into the BCS, the other SEC-affiliated bowl games will start making their selections, starting with the Capital One Bowl. Edwards believes the Orlando-based bowl will pick the home-state Gators over the SEC championship loser (he says Alabama), LSU and USC.
"I'm thinking because South Carolina was in the Capital One last year and they've been in the Outback a bunch of times and Alabama hasn't been to the Outback in a long time, I think they will jump at the chance to get down there if they lost the SEC Championship Game."
Under his scenario, Edwards has the Cotton Bowl, which has the first selection of SEC teams after the Capital One Bowl, selecting LSU over Alabama.
"I think that makes the most sense for them," Edwards said.
Even if the Capital One doesn't take Florida, Edwards agrees with GamecockCentral.com that the Gators won't slip below the Outback Bowl because of potential ticket sales.
Could Jadeveon Clowney and USC find themselves back in Orlando for the Capital One Bowl?
Should Alabama capture the SEC championship - as GamecockCentral.com predicted on Monday - and Texas A&M was the at-large selection, that would push two SEC West teams into the BCS, meaning three SEC East teams plus LSU would be available in the pool for the three conference slots in the Capital One/Outback/Cotton.
Edwards described GamecockCentral.com's prediction of LSU to the Capital One, Florida to Outback, USC to the Cotton Bowl and Georgia to the Chick-fil-A as "making sense," based on the conceivable late-season momentum of the Gamecocks, who could be riding a four-game winning streak heading into bowl season.
"I can absolutely see that if Alabama wins the SEC Championship Game," Edwards said.
A 10-2 record would probably put USC into the pool of at-large teams available to the BCS, Edwards said, but the Gamecocks are unlikely to be picked, especially if an SEC team doesn't play in the national championship game.
"The problem is with the SEC champion now projected to go to the Sugar because of Alabama's loss, it will be the Fiesta that will take the SEC at-large team," Edwards said. "A&M makes more sense for the Fiesta than anybody else. First, they're the farthest west of any SEC team and the closest in proximity. Second, the Fiesta has been a Big 12 bowl for all these years, so you have that connection. But the biggest thing is Manziel. They have probably the most marketable player in all of college football."
Unlike other major bowl games, the Fiesta must put an emphasis on trying to sell tickets in order to get local patrons to come to the game. Manziel would be the magnet Fiesta Bowl officials need, Edwards said.
"Nobody else in the SEC has that draw," Edwards said. "If anybody else does, it would be somebody like Alabama just based on the name of the team and not because of any particular player. It seems like an easy pick to me."
The Big 12 could potentially throw up a roadblock and protest to the Fiesta Bowl, based on the long-standing relationship between the league and bowl game, but Edwards doesn't see that coming to fruition.
"The Big 12 could say, 'Don't take Texas A&M because they just left the conference and we don't want them to be rewarded with a BCS bowl in their first year out of the league,'" Edwards said. "They could blackball Texas A&M. But I don't think it will happen."
USC's best chance for reaching the Sugar Bowl with a 10-2 record lies in the SEC somehow getting Alabama (No. 4 in the BCS standings) or Georgia (No. 5) into the BCS National Championship Game. But two of the three teams holding down the top three spots (Kansas State, Oregon and Notre Dame) must lose in the final two weekends of the regular season or conference championship game.
"If it happens, all of a sudden it frees up that Sugar Bowl spot again and I think the Sugar would love to have South Carolina," Edwards said. "But it all rests on South Carolina beating Clemson and everything else opening up if the SEC gets a team into the BCS title game."
If not, the Gamecocks could fall to the Chick-fil-A Bowl, Edwards contends, "because of how frequently they've played in the Capital One and Outback."
Figuring out where the Gamecocks will land is complicated because the SEC could end up with six 10-win teams, perhaps a first for a single conference in the history of college football. That's why the SEC dominates the BCS standings below the top three.
"It's crazy to look at the BCS standings and see four through nine being all SEC," Edwards said. "If Florida beats Florida State and South Carolina beats Clemson, I think you'll end up with those six teams still there and the SEC will have six of the top nine or possibly six of the top eight."
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