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A few weeks ago I would have never expected to say this…but our Gamecocks are officially one victory from bowl eligibility and still have an outside chance of winning the SEC East and playing in the SEC Championship game in Atlanta.
Of course that chance relies on a lot of things including an unexpected win by the Gamecocks in the Swamp on Saturday and a Tennessee loss to either Missouri or Vanderbilt (among other things)…but that doesn’t change the fact that the team that finished 2015 with a 3-9 record could still possibly play in Atlanta in December.
Even without the outside and quite unlikely chance at the SEC Championship Game, you can’t help but be overwhelmingly optimistic about what Will Muschamp has done so far at South Carolina.
There is no denying that the talent level is sub par overall, yet the team is winning games it didn’t a year ago and is knocking on the door of the 6-6 record I had hoped for before the season began. A prediction that I was told was far too lofty…by other Gamecocks fans.
Now here we sit, our boys have a winning record (5-4) and even though they have tough games on the road against the Gators and Clemson, they have Western Carolina coming to Williams Brice in between.
A very winnable game that will make 6-6 a reality.
Before the season began, I wrote my season prediction blog for ESPN Upstate and was questioned by Gamecocks fans for my 6-6 projection. The way they’ve gotten to the point is a little differently than I had expected them to, but they’re here.
What’s even more interesting to think about is the “what could’ve been” aspect of the 2016 season. Had Jake Bentley been ready earlier and possibly gotten the offense in gear, the Gamecocks could be sitting atop the SEC East for all we know.
The loss at Kentucky was avoidable, a win there and our boys would be sitting at 6-3 with a 4-3 SEC record. Another “what could’ve been” thought revolves around the Georgia game. Not only when it comes to wondering if that game would have been winnable with Bentley under center, but wondering how much differently that game might have gone if it hadn’t been moved due to Hurricane Matthew.
The Georgia game could have been played on a Saturday night under the lights with 80,000+ screaming Gamecocks fans…that’s a far different environment than the Sunday afternoon game we witnessed. And again, Bentley. A victory over the Bulldogs and we’d be looking at a 7-2 football team with a 5-2 SEC record which would be good enough for first place in the division.
The “what could’ve been” thought process changes nothing. Coach Muschamp and his staff didn’t think Bentley was ready until UMass, the avoidable loss in Lexington happened and the horrendous natural disaster that impacted so many along the East coast couldn’t be avoided.
So here we are, 5-4 and 3-4 in the SEC. Heading to the Swamp where our boys literally drove the final nail into the coffin of our new coaches tenure in Gainesville. The Gamecocks will face a less than stellar Gator offense but a very strong (Muschamp built) Florida defense.
This will be the toughest defense that Bentley has faced and his biggest test thus far in his very young college career. Playing in the Swamp is never easy, especially when it comes as the very first road SEC match-up for a freshman quarterback.
That being said this game is very winnable, but will take a lot of what we’ve seen the past few weeks continuing if it is going to happen. The Gamecock defense will have to play how they played against Tennessee rather than how they played against UMass for starters. Giving the Gators an early lead in the Swamp could be disastrous…and we’re very familiar with that.
The biggest factor this weekend will be the play of the offensive line and Jake Bentley.
Bentley will have to continue to protect the football. So far he has not turned the football over, if he can continue that trend then the Gamecocks have a great chance of winning this football game, but it will still take even more.
Over the last few weeks the South Carolina rushing attack has been imperative to their success with Freshman Rico Dowdle rushing for well over 100-yards in each of the last two games. For this to continue against the stout Gator defense, the offensive line will have to have their best game of the season.
I know, this is a long list of factors, but I truly believe that this win is possible. It’s also possible that Saturday will be a long day.
The good news? Western Carolina is next and a win in Williams Brice against the Catamounts gives our boys 6-wins and a bowl game! So as always, heads up and eyes to the future!
Forever to thee!
Find me on Twitter (@Ditti33), Facebook (/ditti33) and Instagram (dittius33).