The Last Word
By Randall Stewart
Steve Spurrier loves to comment about how Carolina seems to be playing a lot of “biggest games in school history” nowadays. Tomorrow’s tilt in Gainesville is no different. For the first time ever, ESPN College GameDay will broadcast from a Carolina game in which the Gamecocks are the road team. It’s the third consecutive top-ten matchup for South Carolina. It’s a battle for SEC East supremacy. And it’s the biggest game in the country this Saturday.
Why is it the college football’s premiere matchup? Because it’s a de facto national quarterfinal game. It would take an act of God for the winner of this game not to play in Atlanta for the SEC title on December 1. And the winner of that game is all but assured a berth in the BCS Championship Game in Miami on January 7. With a win, the Gamecocks could set themselves up to have their best season of all time. The loss to LSU stings, but doesn’t hurt South Carolina one bit in the SEC East or national title pictures.
The task is simple–win this game and survive the rest of the SEC schedule. No style points necessary, just wins. Then avoid hiccups against Wofford and Clemson. There’s still a lot of football to be played, but Carolina’s entire season hinges on this game. Win in Gainesville, and when the smoke clears at the end of the season, the Gamecocks could be in position to earn a berth in the national championship game.
But this game isn’t just meaningful because of what a win would bring. It’s meaningful because of the implications of a loss as well. SEC teams are blessed far beyond their counterparts in other conferences by having one mulligan per season in their quest for a national title. South Carolina’s was last week in Baton Rouge.
A loss in this game would be a knockout punch to the Gamecocks’ dreams of a national championship. It would serve as the death knell for any hopes of a second division title in three seasons. All those dreams of BCS bowl grandeur, or even a return trip to arguably the most prestigious non-BCS bowl in Orlando? A loss throws those out the window. Win this game, and South Carolina’s players could very well find themselves starry-eyed come January, stepping onto the field at Sun Life Stadium on the biggest of stages. Lose it, and the Outback Bowl becomes the ceiling of this team’s potential.
It’s always said that a good team doesn’t let one loss become two. But, honestly, there seems to be too much working against the Gamecocks to expect them to come away with a win this week. The Swamp is the scariest place to play in all of college football (which I can now say after traveling to LSU last week), the GameDay appearance will have the crowd even more riled up than usual, Marcus Lattimore isn’t at 100%, Kelcy Quarles likely won’t play due to a shoulder injury, and the Carolina offense seems lost.
I expect to see an ugly game tomorrow. I think, much like last week, the Gamecocks will struggle to find an offensive identity while trusting the defense to keep them in the game. But eventually, the Florida offense will wear down South Carolina’s defenders, aided by a discrepancy in time of possession. It just seems like there’s too much for Carolina to overcome. I hope I’m wrong.
Final score: Gators 20-10