TAMPA — The Outback Bowl could be headed for its smallest crowd in nine years, but bowl president Jim McVay said he's pleased enough with ticket sales that he promises the game's TV broadcast won't be blacked out locally.
"We want the game shown in the Tampa Bay market. We're showing the game here, no matter what happens," he said.
About 55,000 tickets have been sold for Thursday's game between South Carolina and Iowa, more than 10,000 short of a sellout, McVay said. The game has been sold out all but two times since the January 2000 game, which drew an announced 54,059 to see Georgia beat Purdue.
McVay said that given the economy, he has been pleased with the attendance, which has met the desired threshold and helped the bowl meet its budget for the year.
"These are extraordinary times, but we're very, very happy with where we are," McVay said. "If we (sell out), that's great. If we don't, we're very pleased with our matchup."
Last year's game drew an announced 60,121 to see Tennessee beat Wisconsin.
Garcia's back: Former Jefferson QB Stephen Garcia's return to Dr. Sam Horton Stadium was far more triumphant than his exit.
More than two years after his last game at his alma mater, a 22-21 playoff loss to Armwood that reduced him to tears, Garcia returned with his South Carolina teammates Saturday for the team's first local Outback Bowl practice.
The Gamecocks initially were set to practice at USF, but coach Steve Spurrier — whose team is staying at the Westin Harbour Island Hotel on the fringe of downtown — indicated the team chose Jefferson High in part because it's a much shorter bus ride.
"It's pretty exciting being back here," said Garcia, who remains the career high school passing yardage king in Hillsborough County. "I've got my old locker and everything; it's pretty fun. … It's a perfect picture, so we've just got to go out there and win now."
Since that Armwood game, Garcia has nearly squandered his career with two arrests and an underage-drinking citation, become a father (of a 14-month-old son, Memphys), and shown just enough to Spurrier in seven games (753 passing, 173 rushing yards) to earn the Outback start.
"Hopefully when the game starts, the ability to make decisions and get the ball out of his hands, that's what we're really working on," Spurrier said. "Against Tennessee (a 27-6 win) he wanted to just take off running, so we're seeing if he can take his steps and throw the ball."
Cook out: Junior SS Emanuel Cook, a second-team All-SEC pick, is the most prominent of three Gamecocks suspended from the game. Cook, who has made it clear he's considering the NFL, is academically ineligible. Backup LB Dustin Lindsey and OL Kyle Nunn also won't play.
Odds and ends: Spurrier confirmed a published report out of South Carolina that former Gamecock TB Duce Staley, a Tampa native who spent 10 years in the NFL, could join the staff in some capacity. "It hadn't happened yet," Spurrier said, "but we'd love to have Duce associated with our team in some area of player development." … Former Gaither TB Jarvis Giles, who recently committed to South Carolina after reversing a commitment to Tennessee, attended Saturday's practice.
Spurrier quote of the day: "Well, last year we lost our last five (to finish 6-6). We only lost two in a row right now, so we're a lot better off than we were a year ago."