ORLANDO, FLA. (AP) - South Carolina and Nebraska both entered the 2011 college football season primed to make a run at conference championships.
Those aspirations didn’t pan out. But entering Monday’s Capital One Bowl, the No. 10 Gamecocks and No. 21 Cornhuskers are more than willing to settle for one final victory to end a year of transition for both.
The Cornhuskers (9-3) are wrapping up their first year in the Big 10 with a chance to win 10 games for the third consecutive year.
For the Gamecocks (10-2), the goal is also all about the numbers as they look to be the first team in program history to post 11 victories.
“It’s important to all of us to try to do things that have never been done before,” South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said.
Is it the best he’s ever had at South Carolina?
“Usually as coaches, we like to say, one of the best,” he said. “Obviously if we’re successful it will go down in the history books as the best. No question about that.
“I really believe this team has achieved just about as much as it possibly could. And hopefully we’ll find out (Monday),” he said.
Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said going into the offseason on a positive note was the only focus this week.
“I can just put it this way, winning’s a lot better than losing _ whether it’s a bowl game or anything else,” he said. “Someone’s going to win this game and someone’s going to lose it. That’s the way it’s going to be. I know both teams are going to play hard and want to win in the worst way. And that’s what’s going to make the game great.”
Earlier this season being able to achieve any kind of milestone didn’t seem like it would be possible for South Carolina.
The Gamecocks started the season 4-0 before coming up a field goal short against Auburn.
Then, problems increased.
Embattled quarterback Stephen Garcia, suspended twice in the spring for the fifth time during his career, was dismissed in early October after a failed alcohol test.
Barely a week later during South Carolina’s narrow win over Mississippi State, standout sophomore running back Marcus Lattimore was lost for the season after tearing a ligament and sustaining cartilage damage in his left knee.
And finally, last month South Carolina notified the NCAA that it agrees that major violations took place in its football program. The school will eliminate six football scholarships over the next three years as part of several other self-imposed penalties for improper involvement with a mentoring group whose president are boosters and South Carolina graduates. The NCAA will decide whether to accept those in a February hearing.
Though another late-season loss to Arkansas kept the Gamecocks from making a second straight trip to the Southeastern Conference title game, the players are excited that there is still something to play for.
“We’re trying to build a winning tradition, so this is just another stepping stone,” South Carolina defensive end Melvin Ingram said. “
Ingram led the team with 8.5 sacks and will anchor a defense that allowed opponents just 18.8 points per game.
Injuries have played a role on both teams this season and in addition to Lattimore’s loss, the Gamecocks nearly lost standout wide receiver Alshon Jeffrey, who was limited during bowl practices back in Columbia after breaking his hand in the season finale win over Clemson.
But Spurrier said he should be ready to go Monday after going through workouts in Orlando this week following surgery.
“His hand should be pretty close to full speed,” Spurrier said. “No problems there.”
Both defenses will have to deal with mobile quarterbacks, who also have the ability to throw when necessary and could set the tone for the game.
Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez ran for more than 800 yards and nine touchdowns in addition to throwing for 1,973 yards and 12 scores.
South Carolina’s Shaw also threw for 12 touchdowns and ran for another seven.
“He’s going to run hard, but we’re going to get to the ball harder,” he said. “It’s going to be big boy football.”
Nebraska running back Rex Burkhead also said he expects the game to be a hard-hitting affair.
“It’s going to come down to who’s the most physical team,” he said. “They’re very athletic, up front especially. Their D-line is one of the best in the country. So up front we’re going to have to win the battle and that’s where I think it lies at.”
New Cornhuskers defensive coordinator John Papuchis will be working his first bowl game in that role after previously coaching the defensive line and serving as special teams’ coordinator.
He said he expects Pelini to do most of the play-calling Monday, but feels comfortable with the plan they have in place for the Gamecocks.
“What we’ve talked a lot around our defense is everything we do is a team and collaborative effort,” he said. “We game plan as a staff, we make game day decisions as a staff and a lot of times we discuss calls as a group. So at the end of the day, coach is going to make the decision but we are all going to have our input.”
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