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No. 10 South Carolina returns to practice field

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP)

South Carolina star defensive end Melvin Ingram is ready to make even more history. He thinks the rest of the 10th-ranked Gamecocks are ready, too.

The Gamecocks returned to the practice field on Saturday, starting serious preparations for the Capital One Bowl and No. 21 Nebraska on Jan. 2.

It's already been a historic season at South Carolina, which reached 10 wins for only the second time in 118 seasons of Gamecocks football. It won six Southeastern Conference games for the first time since joining the league in 1992. And the Gamecocks (10-2) ended the regular season in the most satisfying way possible, posting their third straight victory over rival Clemson - something that last happened from 1968-70.

That's great, of course, but Ingram wants more.

''Since I've been here, we haven't won a bowl game and so we're trying to go out and change that, got out and get that 11th win and make history,'' Ingram said.

The Gamecocks haven't won a postseason game since the 2006 Liberty Bowl against Houston.

They have had three straight bowl clunkers, falling to Iowa 31-14 in the Outback Bowl after the 2008 season, to Connecticut 20-7 in the Papajohns.com Bowl a year later and to Florida State 26-17 at the Chick-fil-A Bowl last December.

Throw in a 56-17 pounding to Auburn in the 2010 Southeastern Conference title game and it's easy to see why Ingram wants things to change.

A bowl victory would cap a banner year for Ingram, who led South Carolina with 8 1/2 sacks and had two interceptions, one off the team lead. The 270-pound Ingram had perhaps the team's most talked-about play of the year, a 68-yard touchdown run off a fake punt during the Gamecocks' 45-42 victory at Georgia on Sept. 10.

Ingram was an AP first-team All-American this week. All that means, he said, is he'll work harder than ever to close his career with a victory.

''We're going to work hard every play,'' he said.

Saturday's practice had plenty of positive notes. Ingram, a captain, was grateful to work out alongside teammates who had spent much of the past three weeks since the Clemson win resting and studying for final exams.

Athletic spokesman Steve Fink said he knew of no academic issues for the bowl game.

Coach Steve Spurrier, who did not talk to reporters after the two-plus hour session, did yell to Ingram and other defensive players facing the cameras, ''Say all the right things now.'' Ingram turned back and waved.

South Carolina's success already has impacted the program. Running backs coach Jay Graham left for a job on the staff at his alma mater, Tennessee. Assistant head coach and assistant in charge of defense, Ellis Johnson, interviewed with Southern Miss this week about their head coach opening. He was at practice, but declined to talk with reporters after Saturday's workout.

Johnson had a key role this season since South Carolina needed its defense to control games to boost its struggling offense.

The Gamecocks lost two of their three returning offensive stars in quarterback Stephen Garcia and running back Marcus Lattimore. Garcia was dismissed from the team in October and Lattimore lost to a knee injury a week later.

The defense, ranked fourth in the country, did the job down the stretch and held four of the final six opponents to less than two touchdowns.

A lot of that was due to Ingram and his linemates, including star freshman Jadeveon Clowney and junior end Devin Taylor. Clowney had six sacks and Taylor five.

Defensive line coach Brad Lawing said Clowney hit a wall in the middle of the season that many freshmen do, but rebounded late to play some of his best football.

''We had high expectations for him as a freshman,'' Lawing said. ''His best days are ahead of him. He's got a tremendous amount of improvement he needs to make.''

''He's getting better,'' Lawing said. ''He got better today.''

Taylor, a 6-foot-7, 250-pound junior, is considered a strong NFL prospect and said he's weighing a jump to the pros instead of playing his senior season. Right now, though, Taylor said he's focused on beating Nebraska.

''I was a little excited to finally get back on the field because we were waiting for three weeks,'' he said. ''It was good to be back.''

Tagged: South Carolina, Devin Taylor, Melvin Ingram, Jadeveon Clowney

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