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South Carolina’s bowl hopes could hinge on result against Kentucky

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It’s only the fourth game of the season, but this could be a game the Gamecocks need to have to get to six wins.

NCAA Football: East Carolina at South Carolina Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s be honest. I realize that the Gamecocks are not even a year removed from a crushing defeat to The Citadel - which, to their credit, is a pretty good FCS team, but still an FCS team nonetheless. So perhaps I shouldn’t be giving the Kentucky Wildcats so much grief for giving up 42 to New Mexico State. Granted, the Wildcats won 62-42, but they still gave up 42 points to a program that isn’t exactly lighting the world on fire out in the WAC.

Simply put, Kentucky hasn’t looked like a good football team thus far. They have allowed 40+ to their first three opponents - Southern Miss (44), Florida (45), and New Mexico State (42). Problem is, if you’re a Wildcat fan, the likelihood of Mark Stoops being fired after 2016 is pretty slim, due to the sheer amount of money it would cost to buy him out: $12 million. It’s obvious that the university was banking on a little more success from Stoops than a 13-26 career record and just four wins in the SEC.

The fact is that this might be the most beatable opponent for the Gamecocks in the pre-open week slate. And the reason is despite the fact that, well, the Gamecocks aren’t much better than the Wildcats despite their 2-1 record. They have major issues on their offensive line, their rushing attack hasn’t shown a huge amount of traction, and they have a quarterback that has shown some very good tendencies but is still finding his way as a true freshman. Of course, they’re going up against a Wildcats team that’s given up gobs of points, which, in a Gamecocks universe, probably means that they’ll get blown out of the building by halftime or lose in frustrating fashion. (By the way, those four conference wins the Wildcats have picked up in the Stoops era? Two of them have come against South Carolina.)

This is a type of game that the Gamecocks have to win if they want to go to a bowl. I think that we’ll get a good barometer of where they are headed the rest of the way based on what happens this weekend. After Saturday, their final two games before the open week are against Texas A&M (in October, so maybe there’s a chance) and Georgia, who might be a top 10 team when they step onto the Williams-Brice Stadium field if they take out Ole Miss and Tennessee. As much as Philip Nelson made some big mistakes the other day, it’s hard to envision Trevor Knight or Jacob Eason making those same ones, or either team gaining over 500 yards and still losing. The Aggies have Myles Garrett, a potential top five pick, on their side, while UGA’s Nick Chubb, who, despite hanging 222 on North Carolina but only managed 80 against FCS Nicholls (!) and 63 against Mizzou, will be the best running back the Gamecocks face all year. They can ill afford to come out of this weekend 2-2 if they are to have any momentum and confidence headed into a five-game home stretch divided up by October 15’s open week.

Who knows? Maybe there is an upset in the making against either A&M or Georgia? Probably not. But it will be very difficult to get to that magic number of six wins if South Carolina can’t beat Kentucky. They need to force the issue on Saturday and make the Wildcats conform to their brand of football (flaws and all), or this one will more than likely turn out to be their third straight loss to Stoops and company.