The Outback Bowl matchup on New Year's Day between South Carolina and Iowa isn't short on story lines — or star power.
There's Steve Spurrier, a longtime Gators coach, bringing his Gamecocks to Tampa, where he held his first head coaching job, hired in 1982 by the USFL's Tampa Bay Bandits.
"It's going to bring back a lot of memories," Spurrier said.
The same could be said for Gamecocks redshirt freshman quarterback Stephen Garcia, a former star at Tampa's Jefferson High who is scheduled to start.
"We're tickled pink," Garcia's father, Gary, said Sunday night. "God works in mysterious ways."
The Hawkeyes, out of the Big Ten, are led by the nation's second-leading rusher, All-America junior Shonn Greene (1,729 yards), who sat out last season due to academics and turned into, as coach Kirk Ferentz said, "as good of a running back as you'll find in the country."
The big names — and homecomings — were big positives for bowl president/CEO Jim McVay, a friend of Spurrier's from their time with the Bandits. But the fact both teams, each of whom missed bowls last season, traveled well in their last trips to Tampa (McVay said the Gamecocks brought more than 20,000 in 2001 and 2002 wins over Ohio State) also played a role in the teams' first matchup.
The Outback picked Iowa over Northwestern, which had a better ranking and record (9-3) and beat the Hawkeyes in Iowa City.
"We think we have a heck of a game coming," McVay said.
The teams took different paths to Tampa. Iowa won five of its last six, including a 24-23 upset of Penn State on Nov. 8 that crushed the Nittany Lions' national title hopes. Its finish and signature victory factored into their selection, McVay said.
The Gamecocks, from the SEC, have lost their past two, to Florida and rival Clemson, by a combined 87-20. Spurrier said his players are thrilled to be going to the "best bowl game in the history of our school."
Garcia was so excited, he called his father Sunday afternoon to tell him, "We're in!" Garcia left Tampa in December 2006 as Hillsborough County's all-time leader in passing yards, completions and touchdowns and will make his third collegiate start.
And his father confirmed he'll have a large support section at Raymond James Stadium for the 11 a.m. kickoff.
"I'm sure with family and friends," Gary Garcia said, "I wouldn't doubt it'd be in the thousands."