Breaking down the Papajohns.com Bowl on Saturday (ESPN, 2 p.m. ET) between Connecticut (7-5) and South Carolina (7-5):
WHO TO WATCH: South Carolina senior outside linebacker Eric Norwood has been one of the best defensive players in the SEC for the last three seasons. He’s a three-time All-SEC selection and will leave South Carolina as the school’s all-time leader in sacks and tackles for loss. He has seven sacks this season, tying him for third in the league, and he was the catalyst for so many of the Gamecocks’ game-changing plays on defense. He’s not just a pass-rusher, either. He had an interception return for a touchdown this season and also blocked three kicks.
WHAT TO WATCH: The Gamecocks looked like they were limping to the finish for the third straight year until the regular-season finale. They’d lost three in a row, but pounded arch-rival Clemson 34-17 in their most complete performance of the season. Granted, it’s been more than a month since that game, but can the Gamecocks build off that momentum and get back to that level against the Huskies? Steve Spurrier has promised that the Gamecocks will be more focused for this bowl game than they were a year ago in the Outback Bowl when they played miserably.
WHY TO WATCH: A lot can happen between now and next season. But you get the feeling that if Spurrier is ever going to make a move in the Eastern Division at South Carolina, he better do it next season. The Gamecocks have a lot of young talent in the program, and beating Connecticut in the bowl game and getting to eight wins would set up what would certainly be an offseason of great anticipation in Columbia.
PREDICTION: One of the most underrated stories in the SEC this season was how much South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia improved. He still has to take that next step to be the kind of quarterback the Head Ball Coach wants him to be, but he played winning football most of the season. As bad as Garcia was in last year’s bowl game, he’ll be just as good in this one. That and another solid performance from Ellis Johnson’s defense will be enough to send the Gamecocks to only their fifth bowl win in school history. South Carolina 24, Connecticut 17.