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December 27, 2010Akeem Auguste wasn't shy about saying it, even when he'd just absorbed one of the most thorough poundings of his career.
"Hope we don't go nowhere cold," he said as he stood in the SEC Championship Game locker room.
He got his wish, and most of South Carolina's players probably felt the same way. The past two years of chilly bowl games have not had good results.
Even in sunny Florida for the Outback Bowl, temperatures were frigid. The Gamecocks had a bright but cold day, beginning before noon with a high of 65 degrees and a brisk wind sweeping the field, and never seemed comfortable in their environs.
Compare that to Iowa, where they shovel snow off the field just so they can practice, and the way the Hawkeyes played as if they were in their warmest game of the season (and perhaps were).
Then there was last year's Papajohns.com Bowl, where a frozen day became a frozen result. No snow fell, but plenty wished it would; at least then, there would be an excuse for the bone-freezing temperatures.
USC barely got the creaking out of its joints while Connecticut, having played in a blizzard or two over the years, felt right at home. While the Gamecocks were on the sideline huddled around the space heaters, the Huskies were asking the stadium vendors for ice cream.
When the Chick-fil-A Bowl matchup was announced, USC was pleased. It will be around 70 degrees, cozy and warm, inside the Georgia Dome on Friday, with no chance of rain, cold, fog, sleet, snow or hail. Even as the Gamecocks have practiced in drizzly or windy conditions leading up to the bowl (they are scheduled to practice outdoors today, even as snowfall has blanketed the Southeast), they knew the game wouldn't have any such problems.
It should be a relief, and USC is hoping it will be a better result.
"I haven't really thought about it, but yeah, hopefully," cornerback Stephon Gilmore said last week. "Last year, it was pretty cold."
Many have questioned the team's desire to not fulfill its allotted 15 bowl practices, but the reasons for not doing it are thus. First, it's an erroneous assumption that a team has 15 and only 15 practices for a bowl game. There are only 15 spring practice sessions allowed, but there is no limit on bowl practices, as mentioned by an NCAA spokesperson in The (Columbus, Ga.) Ledger-Enquirer recently.
USC also had finals week a bit later than some schools, and an extra week of practice for the SEC Championship Game, so coach Steve Spurrier didn't feel the need for two-a-days or a massive number of practices leading up to Friday. Fans howled about it, mentioning the seeming lack of focus for the past two bowl games, but Spurrier didn't change his schedule, even when the weather turned soggy and chilly in Columbia.
The Gamecocks weren't good in their last two bowl appearances, but nobody can definitively say that it was because they didn't practice a certain number of times. There were several reasons why USC was lousy in Tampa and lousier in Birmingham; the weather could have been a major factor for players used to starting the season in intense humidity and winding it down in cold but bearable temperatures.
They didn't blame the weather the past two years and they surely won't this year. The Gamecocks will be conditioned for unexpected cold spells or surprising flurries but won't get anything this year -- just a domey atmosphere.
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