The Gamecocks plunge headlong into the bizarre world of Nuttistan this week. Hold forth in the comments below. As always, five reasons to hope for the best and fear the worst.
1. The Trouble in Nuttistan. As much as we bloggers like to joke about the myriad of scandals and outright weird controversies surrounding the Arkansas program, it has to be a distraction for the players. Their coach is a figure of nationwide ridicule. There are those who question whether they lost their best quarterback before the season. And their All-World running back has fallen out of Heisman consideration and will almost certainly opt for the NFL Draft after this season. Oh, and they have to play football.
2. Casey Dick. No wonder the guys at Razorback Expats responded to my question about the passing game by saying that it "has indeed been that bad." Dick is 87-of-163 (53.4 percent) with 11 TDs but 7 INTs. He averages 122.4 yards a game. And he might not be able to play, or might be touch-and-go if he does. South Carolina, meanwhile, has picked off 12 passes while allowing just eight scoring strikes en route to becoming the 2nd-ranked passing defense in the country. (Ohio State is now in first.) That should allow the Gamecocks to put seven or even eight men in the box with little cause for concern.
3. Forever to thee. Don't underestimate the emotions that will come with the tribute to the beach house fire victims. A team that feels like it's carrying the hopes and fears of a wounded campus is usually a dangerous thing. It feels crass to talk about it, but ignoring the role it could play in this game would be neglecting the obvious.
4. Blake Mitchell. I've almost given up on figuring out who's going to be the quarterback this week and what that means for the offense. But, aside from the last couple of minutes of regulation and overtime last week, Mitchell looked once again like the all-SEC quarterback Spurrier once predicted he would be. Here's hoping that he comes out hot again this week.
5. Momentum. After being shut out for eight quarters, the Gamecocks went on a 24-6 run in the last two quarters and OT against Tennessee. It appears that the play-calling and performance funk might be over for the Gamecocks.
1. Darren McFadden and Felix Jones. Maybe the scariest running back duo in the country. Nope, strike that. The scariest running back duo in the country. They've combined for an average of 232 yards a game and 19 TDs this season. And they're going up against the 74th-ranked running defense in the FBS, allowing 169.2 yards a game and 10 rushing TDs. South Carolina better be confident enough to put seven or eight men in the box; it's the only way to win the game.
2. Scoring. Arkansas has scored 40.3 points a game, though that has included tilts with the likes of Troy, North Texas, Chattanooga and Florida International. But the Hogs also put 38 up on Alabama in a losing cause and have scored fewer than 29 points once -- a one-touchdown defeat against Auburn. South Carolina has averaged but 25.0 ppg. The Gamecocks might not be able to keep up if the game becomes a shootout.
3. Return of the Monk. It sounds like a book in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but Marcus Monk's return could be a critical boost to the Hogs' one-dimensional offense. The WR torched the Gamecocks' secondary last season, grabbing 8 passes for 192 yards in a close Arkansas victory. The only way for the Razorbacks to beat the South Carolina passing defense, and get the extra Gamecocks out of McFadden's face, is to get Monk involved.
4. It's Arkansas. There is always something crazy about this game, and it has usually led to an Arkansas victory, particularly when South Carolina is having a decent season. All of those circumstances line up, as does one extra: Often, it's an upset.
5. Houston Nutt. Yeah, he's crazy. But so is Les Miles, and it's actually worked in LSU's favor a couple of times. Plus, you never know when Nutt will do something insane, like kill Eric Norwood with his bare hands.
PREDICTION: South Carolina 17, Arkansas 10. We're about to find out if I was smarter before the season or if I'm smarter now. After mostly sticking with my preseason predictions, I'm going back on the Arkansas pick. If South Carolina can keep the score low and make sure that McFadden and Jones get their regular 150-200 yards without breaking off too many big rushes or scoring quickly too many times, the Gamecocks should be able to escape with a close win.