ATLANTA — South Carolina is returning to the scene of its worst loss to face Florida State, which hopes to have Christian Ponder back, in the Chick-fil-A Bowl on Friday night.
South Carolina's season includes wins over Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Clemson, but coach Steve Spurrier's team was overwhelmed in its 56-17 loss to Auburn in the Dec. 4 Southeastern Conference championship game at the Georgia Dome.
The loss kept No. 19 South Carolina (9-4) out of a BCS bowl and led to a second straight visit to Atlanta. The Gamecocks say they must have a better showing for their fans this time.
"I think we need to redeem ourselves," said defensive tackle Travian Robertson.
Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher on Thursday would not confirm plans to start Ponder at quarterback. Still, Ponder said he has no swelling or pain in the right elbow which kept him out of the Seminoles' loss to Virginia Tech in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game.
"He can play. He'll play in the bowl game, there's no doubt," Fisher said, adding he planned to talk to Ponder and backup quarterback EJ Manuel later Thursday.
Fisher said Ponder had "no adversity to his practices" this week.
"These last two days he's really had zip on the ball and the ball's whistling out again and he's making all the feel throws," Fisher said.
"He says it's felt as good as it has, probably, for 10 or 12 weeks."
Manuel, who was named MVP of Florida State's Gator Bowl win over West Virginia a year ago, could share time with Ponder at quarterback for the No. 23 Seminoles (9-4). Manuel threw two interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown, when he started in the loss to Virginia Tech.
Ponder, a senior, has a career-high 20 touchdown passes this season, but his 2,038 yards passing and 62.2 completion percentage are down from his junior season.
Fisher may plan to play or even start Manuel to provide a bridge for the sophomore taking over the starting job in 2011. Manuel (6-4, 234) set a career high with 288 yards passing in the ACC championship game loss to Virginia Tech. He adds an option threat as a runner to the offense.
Spurrier, sitting with Fisher at a news conference on Thursday, has a history of alternating quarterbacks at Florida and South Carolina, so he offered a suggestion to the Florida State coach.
"You ever thought about every other play? Like we did?" Spurrier asked, laughing. "You're not into that yet?"
Said Fisher, also laughing: "I've got enough problems with one!"
Each team is pursuing its 10th win to signal a rise as a team to watch in 2011. South Carolina's only 10-win season came in 1984. Florida State has not had a 10-win season since 2003.
Despite being a former Gators coach, Spurrier said he's not motivated by the chance to beat his old rival Florida State. It will be his first game against the Seminoles since 2001.
The Gamecocks won their first SEC East Division title this season, finally moving past Florida, Georgia and Tennessee.
South Carolina will return most of its starters next season, and a win over Florida State would provide momentum for another try at the program's first SEC championship.
South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia, who has started in 27 straight games, threw 20 touchdown passes to lead an offense that also featured tailback Marcus Lattimore.
Lattimore, one of the nation's top freshmen, has 1,198 yards rushing and 19 touchdowns and was especially important in some of the Gamecocks' biggest wins. Lattimore had 37 carries for 182 yards and two touchdowns against Georgia and 40 carries for 212 yards and three touchdowns against Florida. He also rushed for two touchdowns against Alabama but had only 16 carries for 84 yards and no touchdowns against Auburn.
Florida State's running game is more balanced, with three backs — Chris Thompson, Ty Jones and Jermaine Thomas — sharing the carries.