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If the Gamecocks lose in The Swamp, they will need a lot of help from other teams to get back to Atlanta.
When Florida upset LSU in The Swamp two weeks ago, it created a domino effect of desperation throughout the SEC that has since travelled all the way to Columbia, SC. Having lost a game they expected to win, LSU's back was against the wall as their preseason expectations of competing for a BCS championship were dealt a serious blow. Les Miles' players and coaching staff responded with their best performance of the season against a South Carolina team riding high and playing its best football (or so we thought) in the wake of a 35-7 demolition of the Georgia Bulldogs. The matchup between the Gamecocks and Bulldogs was billed as the de facto SEC East championship, but, really, that went out the window the moment the Gators' 14-6 upset of LSU went final before the South Carolina and Georgia had even hit halftime.
After a disappointing loss in Baton Rouge last Saturday, it is now Steve Spurrier's Gamecocks whose backs are against the wall as they prepare for a pivotal road test in Gainesville. Of the teams with a realistic shot to go to Atlanta out of the East, only Florida and South Carolina control their own destinies. Georgia needs win to win the remainder of its games, including the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party next week, and have Florida help them out by beating South Carolina on Saturday. Florida just needs to beat South Carolina and Georgia in consecutive weeks to clinch the East.
But we likely won't know South Carolina's SEC fate until its final conference game against Arkansas. If the Gamecocks lose to Florida, their chances of emerging on top of the three-team race in the East go to what I would estimate to be less than 10%. If the Garnet & Black (or Gray & DigiCamouflage, as the case may be) stumble in The Swamp, they will need:
1) Georgia to beat Florida and
2) Have Georgia lose to either Ole Miss, Kentucky, or Auburn (not happening) and
3) Have Florida lose at home to Missouri, which is more likely than Georgia losing to either of their aforementioned future foes but still isn't exactly a contingency plan that inspires confidence.
The good news is that this scenario, improbable though it may be, would result in a three-way tie, which would favor South Carolina by virtue of their having the best intra-division record of 5-1 and the head-to-head win over Georgia.
All of that is a somewhat longwinded way of saying that our entire season comes down to this game against Will Muschamp's revitalized Gators. Florida's program has frightened me the past several season for the same reason that LSU made me nervous going into last week game. Despite disappointing outcomes, these two programs have recruited at the highest level for decades, and it was just a matter of having the light come on (whether from a coaching or player standpoint) to return them to their positions as elite SEC programs. For LSU, its program had just been dormant for three games. For Florida, it had been two seasons. But the hiring of Brent Pease, and his more inventive approach to playcalling, seems to have reinvigorated a Gator offense that foundered the past two seasons under Steve Adazzio and Charlie Weis.
Much as Les Miles and his staff were charged with formulating a gameplan that masked LSU's weaknesses and mitigated South Carolina's strengths just in time to save their season, it is now time for us to see whether or not Steve Spurrier and Lorenzo Ward are able to address the weaknesses on display during the LSU game just in time to save ours. The Gamecocks will be dealing with another hostile environment, another strong defense, another good rushing offense, and several banged up interior defensive linemen. In the wave of euphoria that followed the Georgia win and the domination of the UGA offensive line and the famed Gurshall tandem, I would have never guessed that the success or failure of our season would come down to whether or not the Gamecocks' front seven can find a way to stop Florida's running game and that I wouldn't be feeling particularly optimistic about that proposition.
But that's where we stand.