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October 19, 2010

Trying to Avoid The Past

It's halfway through the season and South Carolina is in sole possession of first place in the SEC East.

Why isn't that comforting?

Perhaps because with a win over the Wildcats, USC would have been up two wins over second-place Florida with four to play. Perhaps because it was simply mind-boggling to watch a team that dominated then-No. 1 Alabama and did whatever it wanted to do offensively against Kentucky in the first half slide so epically in the second.

And perhaps because the No. 19 Gamecocks' meltdown at Kentucky last week triggered thoughts that it could be the start of another late-season USC collapse.

"We just didn't play good in the second half and we have to come back out on Monday and bounce back," tailback Brian Maddox mourned. "We have to find a way to bounce back."

The second half of the season has mostly not been kind to USC throughout its SEC tenure, generally being the time of year that turns great or hopeful seasons into .500 or slightly less campaigns. Thinking of that, it seems excusable for many to think that the Kentucky game may be the start of something similar.

But the schedule tells otherwise. The Gamecocks will next travel to Vanderbilt, a team that was smashed 43-0 by Georgia last week, and then host Tennessee, winless in the league this season. For bowl contention's sake, that gets USC six wins and eligible for a postseason trip, with two more very winnable games still on the slate (Troy and Clemson).

The Gamecocks want more than a bowl, though, they want a division title and the chance to play for the SEC championship. They are still in line to do that, but have to first take care of the Commodores and Volunteers, then get ready for an Arkansas team that loves to throw the ball (USC ranks 110th in the country in pass defense), and a mercurial Florida team that can score 40 one game and seven the next.

So where do they go? Obviously, to Nashville on Saturday.

After that is up to them.

"Certainly, we're down a little bit today and probably will be a little bit tomorrow," Steve Spurrier said on Sunday. "It's a long season. It's one game. It's going to depend on our guys and how bad we want to go play."

After a loss at Tennessee last year, Spurrier sat down to preview Arkansas with a 6-3 record. He was asked if the UT loss maybe had some folks thinking, "Here we go again."

"Here we go again, also with six wins and three losses right now," Spurrier interrupted.

Further bristling, he added, "So we're not as bad off as some of you guys want to attempt to make us feel."

As Saturday turned into Sunday, everyone from the team down felt bad. The Gamecocks gave away a game they could have had and it hurt.

But following the team's standard M.O., there is a 24-hour grieve or celebrate period. After that, it's back to work.

There is work left to be done, and certainly a great opportunity if the work wins. As the spectre of previous seasons hangs over Williams-Brice Stadium, USC hit the practice field on Monday and got ready to go.

Some have said it's the same old Gamecocks, but at least one believed it will be different.

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