Although South Carolina clinched bowl eligibility last week, there are three more chances to sweeten its 13th game of the season.
That first opportunity will be this Saturday afternoon as the Gamecocks hit the road to take on the Florida Gators, who will clinch a postseason berth of its own with a victory.
The Gamecocks enter its tenth game of the year with a 5-4 record against the spread and an even better record of 6-3 overall. We saw USC avenge its Missouri blunder in its latest matchup against Vanderbilt, which featured what looked like a completely different team on offense and the special teams getting back to form. The defense took a step back, but I expect it to return to normal in the coming weeks, or at least the pass defense.
Florida comes into this one potentially undervalued at 5-4 both straight up and against the spread (2-4 ATS at The Swamp, though) with “good” losses to Georgia, LSU, Tennessee and a Kentucky squad that has looked impressive with a healthy Will Levis at the helm.
Its recent blowout of Texas A&M should tell you that, and the spread should speak greater volumes.
Florida (at home) is favored over South Carolina by eight points, according to DraftKings Sportsbook.
ESPN’s FPI gives the Gamecocks a 29.2% chance of securing the road upset.
The total is set at 59 points.
Why was the line set at this number?
Like I said before, Florida is a team much more skilled than its record suggests, and Vegas appears to agree.
Florida — a squad that is currently lower in the SEC East standings — is favored over South Carolina by eight points, and it is implied the Gators would be favored in Columbia as well.
Now, why is that?
Well, Florida has beaten the bad teams on its schedule and played up to the good ones, losing respectably to Georgia, dropping the Tennessee game by only five and competing with LSU up until late in the fourth quarter.
They also have some very winnable games (if they are able to take this one) remaining on the schedule. So, Vegas may be projecting them as an eight-win team despite having less than the Cocks currently.
As for history, the Gators have won five of its last seven matchups against USC, with four of those victories coming by eight points or more.
So, it is likely that if Florida wins, it will be enough to cover the spread.
Just in terms of game plans, I don’t see the Gators winning a close game. If Florida wins, it won’t be in a shootout, it will be in a blowout because the Gamecocks likely would not be able to keep up.
In all, I definitely think an eight-point spread is fair, especially with how the Cocks looked against Missouri.
What will have to happen for the Gamecocks to cover?
Offensively, you have to do what the Gators give you.
This isn’t some elite defense we are talking about here, having given up 26 to Utah and Kentucky, 28 to USF, 38 to Tennessee, 45 to LSU and 42 to Georgia.
And there isn’t just one weakness for it, either. Success could be had through the air and on the ground.
Every single SEC opponent with the exception of Kentucky has had a 100-yard rusher, which means great things will be in store for Marshawn Lloyd in his return to action.
Most teams have opted for a mainly run heavy approach, but LSU’s Jayden Daniels — who isn’t exactly known for his throwing abilities — was able to throw for 349 yards and three touchdowns against the Gators.
So, maybe Spencer Rattler could have a repeat performance of last week.
Basically, my point is nothing is ruled out offensively. Points will be scored.
Defensively, the emphasis should be on stopping the run, whether it be the running back or Florida star quarterback Anthony Richardson doing it.
Richardson isn’t the most polished throwing of the football, but he has had his moments.
We’ve seen him have some off games, like when he threw for 112 yards with two picks against USF or 66 yards with a pick against Missouri, but we’ve also seen some Richardson master classes, like his 453-yard air raid against the Volunteers.
I’d still opt to put most of the attention on the run, though, as Richardson is probably more feared in that department. Florida’s running back duo of Montrell Johnson, Jr. and Trevor Etienne can be dangerous as well.
So, my keys to covering are keep up with Florida’s high-powered offense, shut down the run because I can live with Richardson winning through the air and get some turnovers because that may be the best way to get Florida off the field.
What’s the better bet?
My bet simply lies on the fact that I believe South Carolina will have a tough time going blow-for-blow with the Gators, especially on the road.
Things did appear to be looking up in the win at Vanderbilt, but that was supposed to happen.
Florida probably feels embarrassed to still be playing for bowl eligibility right now, and I believe the team comes out motivated.
Additionally, every week on here I yell with my words, “Stop the run!” and it never seems to work.
Give me the Gators by 10 to 14 points.
Things will only get harder from here on out for the Cocks, so I’m really hoping to be wrong.