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Sunday, January 1, 2012
Capital One Bowl: Nebraska vs. S. Carolina

By Chris Low

South Carolina looks to win 11 games in a season for the first time in school history when it plays Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl on Monday in Orlando. Here’s a quick preview:

WHO TO WATCH: South Carolina sophomore quarterback Connor Shaw. After taking over the starting job in October from fifth-year senior Stephen Garcia, Shaw was at his best to close the regular season. He was 30-of-38 passing in his final two games and torched Clemson with three touchdown passes and one rushing touchdown. Garcia was never able to lead South Carolina to a bowl victory, and his bowl performances typically mirrored the Gamecocks’ struggles in the postseason. Here’s Shaw’s chance to break that curse in his first postseason start.

WHAT TO WATCH: South Carolina’s front seven vs. Nebraska’s running game. The Gamecocks are menacing up front defensively with a mix of veterans and young talent. Senior defensive end Melvin Ingram was the Gamecocks' first consensus All-American in nearly 30 years, and freshman defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is on a fast track to the NFL after collecting six sacks and forcing five fumbles this season. They will have their hands full with the Nebraska running game, and that includes sophomore quarterback Taylor Martinez. Rex Burkhead leads the Cornhuskers with 1,268 rushing yards, but Martinez also racked up 837 yards and rushed for nine touchdowns. Nebraska averages 223.9 rushing yards per game, which is ranked No. 13 nationally.

WHY TO WATCH: Both teams want to get sour bowl tastes out of their mouths. The Gamecocks have lost three in a row, including a couple of wretched performances. The Huskers laid an egg last season in their second consecutive Holiday Bowl appearance, bowing  meekly to Washington 19-7. Nebraska has its sights set on a third straight 10-win season. A South Carolina win would give the Gamecocks their first 11-win season in school history and would ensure a top 10 finish.

PREDICTION: South Carolina 24, Nebraska 20. The Gamecocks showed a lot of resolve this season, and it took them a while to adapt to what Shaw does best at quarterback. Down the stretch, he was excellent, and his teammates played well around him. The best thing the Gamecocks have going for them is one of the best defenses in the country, and newly named defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward will turn those guys loose in Orlando.