With Carolina a legitimate contender for a division title and BCS bowl bid, who would want to miss any games at all? But if you do have other plans during a football weekend this fall, make sure it isn’t one of these:
October 6: vs. Georgia
It’s a shame the SEC placed this year’s border war in October rather than in the second week of the season. Steve Spurrier made a splash at SEC Media Days this season with his comment that you can usually count on the Silver Britches to have a few key players suspended for the first two or three weeks of the season. Then star running back Isaiah Crowell went and put his money where Spurrier’s mouth was, getting kicked off the team after his arrest on felony weapons charges. Even without Crowell, though, Georgia’s Aaron Murray-led offense promises to be deadly. A weak schedule, with no games against Alabama, LSU (which Carolina faces on the road), or Arkansas (which Carolina welcomes to Columbia), makes the Bulldogs the favorites to win the SEC East. If they win in Columbia, expect Georgia to go unbeaten in the conference. If USC wins, it can lose a conference game and still win the East by virtue of the tiebreaker. Whoever wins this game is in great shape to win the division.
October 13: at LSU
Just one week after the ultra-important Georgia matchup, the Gamecocks have to travel to what many have said is the toughest environment in all of college football. Carolina fans should pray for a day game–the friendly locals from Baton Rouge become not-so-friendly after the sun goes down. LSU has a .491 winning percentage in home day games since 1960. At night? .782. Hell, these people once caused a legitimate earthquake after a late touchdown, and that was back when the stadium held 12,000 less liquored-up fans than it does today. Most pundits have the SEC West race as a toss-up between the Bayou Bengals and Alabama, and LSU is considered among the favorites to contend for a national title this season. Can the Gamecocks lose this game and still win the East? Yes. If Carolina beats Georgia on October 6, a 7-1 record can win the East. But if the Dawgs escape Williams-Brice with a win, there’s virtually no chance for Carolina to make it to Atlanta without a win in this game. But there’s a second level of intrigue to this game as well: it could be an SEC Championship Game preview. LSU gets Alabama, their biggest barrier to a division crown, at home this year. If Carolina wins at Tiger Stadium and LSU beats the Tide, the Gamecocks and Tigers could see each other again in December.
November 10: vs. Arkansas
How does a win-and-you’re-in scenario in the last conference game of the season sound? Carolina could very likely find themselves in that situation against Arkansas, with a win (in front of the rowdy fans at Williams-Brice, mind you) guaranteeing them an SEC East championship and a chance to play for the conference title in Atlanta. The Hogs are the forgotten Top-10 SEC West team that’s threatened in years past, but just hasn’t been able to get the big win to put them into the SEC Championship Game. With QB Tyler Wilson as sharp as ever and RB Knile Davis returning from a preseason ankle injury in 2011 that kept him off the field all season, the normally potent Razorback offensive attack will be especially dangerous in 2012. Not to belabor the point, but it’s oh so important: if the Gamecocks beat Georgia, Carolina could advance to the SEC Championship game if both teams could go 7-1 in the SEC by virtue of the head-to-head tiebreaker. This would give Carolina a mulligan, but likely only one–Georgia losing to anyone not wearing garnet and black looks unfathomable. If Carolina enters this matchup at 7-0, in the conference, it’s a formality. A coronation. But if the Gamecocks lose to LSU, they cannot lose this game. Plain and simple. The Georgia matchup may be sexier on paper, but with a potential division title on the line, it may be even more important to bring the noise against Arkansas in November.
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