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September 9, 2011
"Anything goes tonight."
--------------- GUNS N' ROSES
So here we stand, on the eve of another South Carolina-Georgia football game, and the proverbial shoe is on the proverbial other foot.
In this rivalry, the Gamecocks have entered this game knowing they could win. This time around, they know they should.
The question is, will they?
Steve Spurrier didn't pull any punches this week, stressing that his team wasn't that good after watching film of the season-opener and saying it better not be paying attention toward being favored to win. It wasn't coach-speak, either, of using the trusted Lou Holtz method of inspiring his team by saying it could only hope to beat the next opponent.
"Well, I learned that it's always beneficial to you when the other team fumbles three times in a row," he cracked, and wasn't joking that much. East Carolina had weathered the Gamecocks' first-half charge and scored a touchdown just before halftime, heading into the locker room ahead by 10 points. Fumbling away three straight possessions and giving up three USC touchdowns was the difference; those don't happen, who knows if the Gamecocks win?
The players took the same line, professing ignorance or cluelessness about the Vegas odds and saying the ECU game was an ugly win. "We can play so much better," said two-touchdown supplier Ace Sanders, and he was also 100 percent correct.
Making the fundamental mistakes (mostly fumbles) against Georgia on Saturday won't be in any way as forgiving as it was against East Carolina. The Gamecocks cough it up between the hedges, the Bulldogs probably won't be giving it back.
This is the true test for the season. The Gamecocks have more talent than the Bulldogs and should win. But this is USC football, where "should" should never be taken into account.
When "should" gets thrown into the equation, so do phrases such as "goal-line fumble" or "stripped in the end zone," especially when it comes to USC-Georgia. To lose in that fashion really wouldn't be that surprising, but to do it this year could be debilitating.
Georgia's only difficult games for the rest of the year are Mississippi State, Auburn and Florida. The first two are at home and the Florida game, while in Jacksonville, Fla., will be against a Gators team that is still rebuilding.
The Gamecocks have a very nice stretch for the next four games, all at home with three against weak teams and the other against Auburn. After that comes a murderous stretch of three straight road games against Mississippi State, Tennessee and Arkansas, before coming back home to face Florida, The Citadel and Clemson.
The Bulldogs have so much to gain with a win on Saturday. They win that and take control of the SEC East, they're likely to use it as a coaster right to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game.
While USC certainly wouldn't be out of the race (it won the SEC East last year with a 5-3 record), it would have to win all of its remaining games and hope for Georgia to lose twice.
Georgia media have classified this as a must-win for the Bulldogs and embattled coach Mark Richt. Spurrier hasn't commented on that part of the equation because he's not into discussing the futures of other coaches. "Mark Richt knows how to handle this," he said.
It's also a must-win for USC, although the players and coaches won't say it. In years past, it never was, since there were always other games to try and win and get in position.
But this year, the Gamecocks don't hope to get in position, they hope to establish it from the start and have everybody chasing them for a change. That starts in Athens on Saturday.
They should win, they should take advantage of a unique opportunity.
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