No. 23 FSU (9-4) vs. No. 19 South Carolina (9-4)Dec. 31, 7:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Reason to watch: Dust off that Chumbawamba CD and pop in the Seinfeld episode that chronicles Kramer's addiction to Kenny Rogers Roasters, because you're about to have a '90s flashback as Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier takes on former archenemy Florida State for the first time since leaving Florida following the 2001 season. If a little bit of not-so-long-ago nostalgia isn't enough to suck you in, here's a better reason to watch: FSU and South Carolina, losers of their respective conference championship games, are poised for even bigger things in 2011. This is a meeting of two programs very much on the rise.
Keep an eye on: FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said senior quarterback Christian Ponder will start despite lingering soreness from minor surgery to correct an injury to his throwing elbow that kept him out of the Seminoles' loss to Virginia Tech in the ACC Championship Game. Fisher didn't guarantee Ponder would be able play the entire game, but the coach seemed excited about having his star back. "I know when I call it, if we get the right look, we're going downtown," Fisher told reporters this week. "If not, he's going to get me into something else and get me some yardage so we can call it the next play. It does change the whole way you call the game, big-time."
Did you know: The Gamecocks have been atrocious in their last two bowl games, losing by a combined score of 51-17. They looked as if they didn't want to be at the Outback Bowl against Iowa two years ago, and they had mentally checked out long before they kicked off against Connecticut in last year's PapaJohns.com Bowl. This team -- which seems to take many of its cues from star freshman tailback Marcus Lattimore -- will have to prove it takes this game seriously.
Final analysis: If Ponder is sharp and tailback Jermaine Thomas -- who missed FSU's last three games because of a knee sprain -- has recovered, FSU's offense will be tough to stop. But the Seminoles could have just as much trouble stopping the Gamecocks. Cornerbacks Greg Reid and Xavier Rhodes face the unenviable task of trying to limit South Carolina receiver Alshon Jeffery, who racked up 1,387 receiving yards and nine receiving touchdowns this season.
The pick: South Carolina 35, Florida State 33
SI.com NFL draft analyst Tony Pauline shares his thoughts on the top pro prospects in this matchup:
South Carolina: DE Devin Taylor* -- The redshirt sophomore turned in a dominant season in 2010 after moving into the starting lineup. He's a terrific athlete with great size and growth potential. The sky's the limit for Taylor, who possesses an eye-catching ability to make plays against the ball in any circumstance and who could be a very early pick if he continues to develop. Grade: Second-round prospect.
Florida State: OL Rodney Hudson -- Hudson moves toward April's draft as the top zone-blocking offensive lineman on draft boards. He moves exceptionally well on his feet and easily gets into the secondary, removing linebackers or defensive backs from the action. A guard for most of his career at Florida State, Hudson is projected to center by a number of NFL teams, which adds to his value. Grade: Second- to third-round prospect.
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