South Carolina seeks bowl eligibility with win vs Catamounts

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) South Carolina hit a low point the last time the Gamecocks faced a Southern Conference team. Now they're for a different outcome against a SoCon opponent with much more on the line.

The Gamecocks (5-5) hope to qualify for a bowl game when they take on Football Championship Subdivision opponent Western Carolina (2-8) on Saturday. In 2015, though, they were just looking for a late-season pick-me-up in a sorry season when they got stung by Citadel, 23-22, at home , the final indignity of a 3-9 campaign during which coach Steve Spurrier walk away in mid-season.

''I think that was the low point,'' South Carolina running back David Williams said of the Citadel defeat. ''I think everybody was thinking about the week after (against rival Clemson) and overlooked the Citadel.''

No chance of that happening this time with what's at stake.

The Gamecocks can double up on last year's win total and get another few weeks of practice for a young team that features freshman starters at quarterback, running back and receiver in coach Will Muschamp's first season.

Muschamp won't bring up last year's Citadel flop. He will go heavy about making a bowl and giving his seniors a strong send off in their last career game at Williams-Brice Stadium.

Muschamp said his team did a good job hanging together and continuing to work after three straight losses left them 2-4 at midseason.

''That was not a prime spot to be in,'' Muschamp said. ''Guys continue to investee, that's what we asked them to do.''

South Carolina had won its previous nine games over FCS opponents before Citadel used its rushing attack to control the game. The Bulldogs ran for 350 yards on 61 carries, only throwing three passes against the Gamecocks.

Linebacker Bryson Allen-Williams said the defeat has motivated him almost every day.

''We don't want that to happen again,'' he said.

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Some other things to watch when South Carolina faces Western Carolina:

ORTH'S GOODBYE: One-time walk-on senior quarterback Perry Orth plays his final home game, likely to once more remain on the behind freshmen Jake Bentley and Brandon McIlwain. Muschamp has cited Orth's willingness to mentor the young players as one of the Gamecocks biggest assets to their second-half surge. Orth, who started 11 games in his career, hopes fans remember his strong football moments, too. Orth rallied the Gamecocks to a 13-10 victory over Vanderbilt to start the season and threw three second-half TDs as South Carolina nearly beat No. 1 Clemson 35-32 last season.

WESTERN'S END: Western Carolina's season comes to a close after Saturday. The Catamounts had hoped to contend in Southern Conference (they were third in the league last season) but started 0-6 in conference play. Western Carolina is 0-51 all-time against FBS opponents, including an 0-18 mark against SEC schools.

YOUNG GAMECOCKS: 78 of South Carolina's 115-man roster are freshmen or sophomores. The team has played 13 true freshmen, including seven who are starters - the most in the country this season.

MUSCHAMP TIES: Western Carolina secondary coach Blake Gideon played for Texas when Will Muschamp was the Longhorns defensive coordinator. Gideon moved to Florida under Muschamp as a defensive quality control staffer. Gideon held a similar position last year at Auburn, following Muschamp there when he became the Tigers defensive coordinator.

STRONG DEFENSE: South Carolina is among six FBS teams to hold every opponent under 30 points. The others are No. 2 Ohio State, No. 4 Michigan, No. 7 Washington, No. 16 LSU and No. 18 Auburn. The Gamecocks twice gave up 28 points this year, their highest total, in a loss to Georgia and a victory over UMass.

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For more college football: http://collegefootball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25

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Follow Pete Iacobelli at www.Twitter.com/PIacobelli-AP

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