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September 28, 2010
COMMENTARY: Somehow, All Is Not Lost
"Can we talk about tomorrow,
And the promise that it brings?"
--------------- THIRD EYE BLIND
Somehow, I woke up this morning and the world was still spinning. There was no nuclear blast crater outside my apartment, although it was raining in Noah-like volumes.
Then I logged onto our message boards and re-discovered just how bad South Carolina's football team is. The audacity to be 3-1 and ranked in the Top 20 after an eight-point loss to one of the country's best athletes - it's a mystery why the Gamecocks just don't shut down the program now, shutter the doors at Williams-Brice Stadium and use that scholarship money to fund a women's bowling team.
Amazing that most can find the keyboard to vent about which players aren't performing (how dare Cliff Matthews not fight past double teams) and the lack of superstar talent on the roster (despite Alshon Jeffery leading the country in receiving yards), but can't call up the SEC standings and future schedule and see that USC is in very good shape for its goals. The window of opportunity has slightly shrunk, that's all, no matter what the 10-year NFL veteran hiding behind an online handle thinks.
The Gamecocks have made no secrets about their desire to turn this into a championship season, and since the first part of that is winning the SEC East, it's necessary to look at the possibility.
And it is very, very possible.
USC has one SEC win, which three other teams in the East do not. It has one SEC loss, which four other teams in the East have. There are eight games to play.
It is not over. Not by a long shot equal to Lorenzo Charles dunking over Akeem Olajuwon.
I thought before the Auburn game that USC had to win one of its next two (the other being Alabama) to really have a chance. That's still true, although it won't be a definite death knell if the Gamecocks lose to the Crimson Tide.
Even I, who swore off mathematics after the 11th grade except for figuring out just how high Kyle Farnsworth reaches on the worthlessness meter, can see that.
The biggest question is Florida, which is already 2-0 in the SEC. USC will have to keep an eye on the Gators, but as long as the Gamecocks take care of their business, they will be all right.
Florida plays Alabama this weekend in Tuscaloosa. The Gators also host LSU next week. Those are the two most difficult games they'll have, although that Mississippi State game may be intriguing for a half or so.
Let's play prognosticator and say Florida loses to the Crimson Tide. That's one SEC loss, which equals USC's. Gamecocks win out (including in The Swamp on Nov. 13), they win the East.
If Florida and USC each lose to Alabama, the Gators have one loss and the Gamecocks have two. Still solved by USC winning out, because a win in Gainesville equals the tiebreaker.
Kentucky, Tennessee and Vanderbilt each have one SEC loss. USC has to play all of them. The Volunteers, with LSU and Alabama also on the remaining slate, will likely lose at least three more SEC games. The Wildcats have to face Auburn, a who-knows Ole Miss team and Mississippi State, while the Commodores have Arkansas and Florida among their remaining schedule.
Georgia, with an 0-3 ledger, is likely gone from contention. With Florida and Auburn still on the schedule, the Bulldogs are pretty much done.
The Gamecocks certainly won't have an easy road, but they knew that coming in. The Auburn loss did not eliminate anything. Losing another SEC game pretty much draws the line that would equal a first-loser finish, and with Alabama, Arkansas, Florida and the rest (you always have to wonder if this is the year that Kentucky shoe drops), it will be tough.
But USC has a week off, which I can't think of another team that could use one more than this one. After a week filled with family deaths, the shocking loss of Kenny McKinley, Jarvis Giles' transfer, more Weslye Saunders rumblings and then a rip-the-heart-out game, a Saturday off is looking mighty fine.
The Gamecocks know they gave one away at Auburn. They also know, as should you, that the opportunity is not gone. There is only one "maybe" scenario left, that of hoping Florida loses at least one SEC game before Nov. 13, and even that becomes moot if USC wins the rest of its games.
I'm not guaranteeing any of this will happen. The purpose is to see what could happen. I know many of you would have liked a comfortable cruise to Atlanta, but you should know by now that no USC team does things the easy way.
But they can do them, and this team can still win the SEC East. Not "will," but "can."
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