When South Carolina released the schedule several months ago, the three-game October gauntlet pitting the Gamecocks against Georgia, LSU and Florida stood out as the pivotal stretch of the season.
CBS studio host Tim Brando has cautioned LSU about the Oct. 13 meeting in Baton Rouge that could be a Top-10 battle between the Gamecocks and the Tigers, and has given USC more than a fighting chance to emerge from one of the most hostile environments in the country with the win.
Brando, in fact, has labeled USC as a dark horse national-championship contender.
Article Continues Below
However, color analyst Gary Danielson views the previous week's home matchup with the Bulldogs as the one that could set the tone for arguably one of the toughest middle-of-the-season stretches in years for USC.
Without a doubt, the winner of the USC-Georgia border battle has the inside track to the divisional title and the spot in the Dec. 1 SEC Championship Game.
"I see that Georgia-South Carolina game at home as being real pivotal because, dark horse or not, if you get into the SEC Championship Game, you have a legitimate chance to play for the national championship," Danielson said in a teleconference on Tuesday.
So, how does USC get there? From an offensive perspective, the first two games of the season have been vastly different. In the opener, USC focused on running the football, churning out 205 rushing yards on 47 attempts while throwing just 15 times.
Last week, with backup quarterback Dylan Thompson calling signals for most of the afternoon, the Gamecocks exploited East Carolina's shortcomings in the secondary by throwing for 397 yards on 23-of-40 passing.
Spurrier has often contended that he wants USC to run a "balanced offense." But what exactly does that term mean? Does it mean roughly equal passing and rushing attempts? Equal yardage? Something else?
"If I know Steve the way I see him, he doesn't predetermine that type of stuff," Danielson said. "The key to being balanced is not an equal number of calls. It's the ability to call either way when you need to. That's how you try to design an offense. It's not you're trying to hit the 50/50 mark or 51/49, it's that whatever you need to do, you can do."
Missouri, next week's opponent for USC, hosts Arizona State in an intriguing SEC-Pac-12 battle on Saturday in Columbia, Mo. The Tigers fell to Georgia 41-20 last week and quickly learned the glare of the SEC spotlight shines very brightly on the biggest stage in college football.
When you play college football in the SEC, you don't remain anonymous for long.
"The one thing the news media and fan bases at Missouri and Texas A&M are going to have to come to grips with is that every game is like being Tiger Woods in a PGA event," Brando said. "If you're bad, they're going to see every shot. If you're great, they're going to see every shot. You're under a microscope when you come into this conference. It's unlike any other league with respect to that. How they deal with that will be interesting."
Missouri also discovered that the SEC plays a more rugged and physical style of football than the historically pass-happy Big 12. Georgia simply wore down the Tigers, scoring the final 24 points of the contest after Missouri had grabbed a 20-17 lead on a field goal late in the third quarter.
The fourth quarter was completely dominated by Georgia. Now the Tigers face the prospect of having to go on the road next weekend and try to knock off a probable Top-10 team on national TV (3:30 p.m., CBS) in a packed stadium with more than 80,000 fans.
"Frankly, the physicality of the game caught up with Missouri late," Brando said. "They couldn't deal with (Georgia linebacker) Jarvis Jones, that was obvious. Gary Pinkel has an accomplished staff and a very good team offensively. They're going to have to come to terms with that.
"In this league, if you don't bring your 'A' game, both the guys with the headphones and with the shoulder pads, you're going to be exposed."
Another difference between the SEC and the other major conferences is most conference clashes have a "big-game" feel to them. With so much at stake every Saturday, each SEC battle is played with the utmost sense of urgency.
"Every game (in the SEC) is a big game because you're trying to go 11-1 or go undefeated because in this conference you have a legitimate chance to play for the national championship," Danielson said. "No game is smaller or bigger than the next one. It doesn't matter who you lose to. When you lose two, you're out of it. Whoever you play in this conference has the ability to knock you off.
"Are you ready to play Mississippi State at their place? They can beat you. That's how this conference is. They have greatness at the top, but they have great players on every team."