Sunday, September 12, 2010

Carolina's Path to Atlanta

2010: Year of the Gamecock?
With South Carolina’s impressive wins over Southern Miss, 41-7, and East Division rival Georgia, 17-6, you’re starting to hear people say that this may be Spurrier’s best shot at taking the Gamecocks to the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta. No doubt, Carolina is legit this year. Garcia seems to have matured into a game-managing quarterback that doesn’t make mistakes. This probably has more to do with the emergence of a strong running game on the shoulders of freshman monsterback Marcus Lattimore than Spurrier’s off-season regimen of tough love. Plus, the Ellis Johnson coached defense has been stout for a few years now.

So, Carolina seems to have finally gotten over the hump the year that Florida is without both Dan Mullen and Tim Tebow, lacking an offensive identity, and having trouble with simple things like snaps, etc. Tennessee is in a very down year and Georgia has been defeated on the field. With all due respect to Chinese astrology, all this seems to suggest 2010 as the year of the Gamecock.

Pencil in every East game except Florida as a win - Vandy and UK on the road and home against UT. However, looking at Carolina’s schedule, I started to think the Gamecocks are at a distinct disadvantage in their West Division draws.

Carolina plays Auburn, Alabama and Arkansas – three teams picked pre-season to be tops in the West. Florida plays Alabama, LSU and Mississippi State. Georgia, effectively 2 games behind with their loss on Saturday, still has the most manageable West Division schedule – Auburn, Arkansas and Mississippi State. Can Carolina win the East without beating 2 out of their 3 games against West teams?

Arkansas comes to Columbia and if the Gamecocks can run the ball with Lattimore and keep the ball away from Mallet, I think they’ll win that one. The Gamecocks play Auburn at Jordan-Hare, but play Furman the week before, basically giving them 2 weeks to prepare. I say that game is a coin toss right now. Carolina does have a bye week before facing Alabama in Columbia, but at best I’d give the Fightin’ Spurriers an outside chance at an upset against the defending Champs. Getting 2 out of 3 won’t be easy.

Fortunately for the ‘Cocks, so long as Florida loses at least one league game (Alabama looks likely at this point) and SC sweeps the East, SC can lose to 2 out of 3 from the West and still claim the East with a win Nov. 13 in the swamp. Some scenarios:

(1) The only way the Florida game won’t be for all the marbles is if there is more than a 1 game difference between the two teams’ league records. Let’s say SC is somehow undefeated and UF has losses to both Alabama and LSU (as many question marks as there are for the Gators, I can’t realistically see any other SEC team on their schedule beating them – Georgia with AJ Greene back?). In that scenario, the Gamecocks could lose in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium and still win the East.

(2) Losing 2 out of 3 to the West will only hurt SC if Florida goes undefeated through Nov. 13, meaning SC could beat Florida and still not play in Atlanta.

(3) More likely, Carolina has at least one loss (Alabama) and UF has at most 2 (Alabama and LSU) and the Showdown in the Swamp determines the East Champ.

So, right now, the East looks like a 2 horse race to be decided Nov. 13. Which, of course, given how crazy college football is, means it will not work out this way at all.

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