SEC, national title still possibilities for South Carolina
Remember a few weeks ago, following the Texas A&M game, when you resigned yourself to the fact that the South Carolina football program would inevitably go 0-12, sink into some massive hole in the ground and ultimately cease to exist?
Yeah, we’re good.
Saturday’s colossal win over Georgia, in no uncertain terms, saved South Carolina’s season. The Gamecocks are now a healthy 2-1 overall and have an early spot at second place in the SEC East.
But, now that we’ve had time to slink back from Five Points and into reality, it’s time to apply a healthy dose of perspective to the victory.
When evaluating South Carolina’s prospects for the remainder of the season, there are two paths to look down: that of the Southeastern conference and, more ambitiously, the new College Football Playoff.
We’ll begin with the SEC.
In the SEC, games against all conference opponents — regardless of East or West division — count toward a team’s positioning in the race for a spot in the SEC title game that pits the winners of each division against one another.
South Carolina has six of those in-conference contests remaining, and of those six SEC opponents, two are ranked in the AP top-25. But, realistically, the Gamecocks are only likely to roll over one of those schools, Vanderbilt, who is just good, old-fashioned bad at football.
But after next week when South Carolina plays the Commodores is when things get dicey.
The Gamecocks still have trips to Kentucky and Florida, two of the biggest enigmas in the SEC, left on the schedule. Saturday the Gators topped the Wildcats on a questionable non-delay of game call in triple overtime, leading many to ask, “Is Florida still bad enough to need three overtimes to beat Kentucky? Could it be that Kentucky has finally figured out this whole ‘football’ thing on top of basketball?”
It’s too soon to tell what kind of teams those two will be, meaning it’s too soon to tell how South Carolina will fare against them.
One of the Gamecocks' remaining home contests is against Tennessee who, like Florida and Kentucky, is hard to put a finger on. But, unlike Florida and Kentucky, it's widely agreed upon that the Volunteers have improved significantly from last year.
The two games that will almost definitely give the Gamecocks trouble are a home tilt with No. 18 Missouri and a terrifying trip to No. 5 Auburn, who probably still uses holy water for grounds keeping purposes after the series of miracles that happened on that field last year.
Anybody who’s watched so much as a quarter of South Carolina football this year knows the Gamecocks cannot, will not and absolutely refuse to defend the pass.
Missouri’s quarterback, Maty Mauk, currently shares the FBS lead with 12 touchdown passes. Auburn’s man under center, Nick Marshall, is the same guy that led the Tigers to a National Championship game appearance a year ago.
It would be pretty optimistic of you to expect South Carolina to beat both of these teams, so calm down. The Gamecocks might be able to afford one more loss, but it sure wouldn’t be ideal.
In the vaunted SEC, the winners of the East and West divisions have only had one conference loss in recent history, but it’s not unheard of for a team that’s lost more than that to slither into the title game.
The last time that happened was in 2010, when a scrappy bunch of Gamecocks capitalized on a particularly parody-filled year and reached the SEC championship game with a 5-3 conference record.
Now that we have a clearer picture of how South Carolina could achieve their goals within the SEC, let’s see what we can do about making the inaugural College Football Playoff.
By all indications, at least one team from the SEC should make that final four. For that to be South Carolina, it would most likely have to win the conference title.
With either one or two losses, an SEC Championship game victory should propel the Gamecocks to at least a No. 4 ranking. But this time, unlike the previous in-conference scenarios, games outside of the SEC count, and South Carolina could find itself in a situation where a loss at Clemson would eliminate the Gamecocks from the playoff race.
Take a second to collect yourself.
Now that South Carolina did what many thought it couldn’t and toppled Georgia, it’s almost like the Gamecocks have hit the reset button on their season.
Doom has been avoided and there is a set of very plausible scenarios in which South Carolina achieves all of its goals set in the preseason.
So, while the team is required to take it one game at a time, the rest of us are free to let our imaginations run wild as far down the schedule as we see fit, and that’s exactly what we’ll do.