Commentary: Tide will gauge progress for USC

10/12/2009 12:00 AM

03/14/2015 11:17 AM

MOST COLLEGE FOOTBALL cognoscenti agreed South Carolina's first top-5 opponent, Mississippi, was overrated - and the Rebels' plunge from No. 4 to the pool of "others receiving votes" confirmed those suspicions.

Alabama, the next Goliath on the Gamecocks' schedule, might be underrated ... at No. 2.

On the strength of its 22-3 throttling of Ole Miss and Texas' closer-than-the-score-looked, 38-14 victory against Colorado, the Crimson Tide leapfrogged the Longhorns and gained ground on No. 1 Florida in this week's AP poll.

"Obviously, it's the best team we've played by far," USC coach Steve Spurrier said of Alabama. "Ole Miss, even though they were ranked highly, I think appears now that they're just not quite as good a team as preseason (voters) thought."

But no one is calling the references on Alabama's resume.

Offensively, the Tide pounds opponents with a physical running game and picks it spots to throw downfield to Julio Jones. On defense, Alabama is ranked in the top 10 nationally in every major category.

Spurrier spent part of Sunday watching tape of the 'Bama defense. If there are flaws, Spurrier wasn't sharing them publicly.

"There's no weaknesses - linebackers, D-line, secondary guys," he said. "They play a lot of different coverages and play them all well. So it'll be a challenge to make some yards and score some points. But if we're going to have any chance at all, we've certainly got to do that."

USC won what Spurrier called a "fun ballgame" against Kentucky to move up to No. 22 in both polls. Facing a Wildcats' team missing a starting offensive tackle, both cornerbacks and its starting quarterback (after the first series of the second half), USC played Kentucky to a virtual draw in the 28-26 victory.

The Gamecocks finished with one more first down than Kentucky - and one skinny yard. And though USC won its 10th consecutive game against the Wildcats, the Gamecocks are probably closer to Kentucky than they are Alabama in terms of talent.

That doesn't mean the Gamecocks are going to mail it in and take their chances next week with Vanderbilt.

"You never go into any game without a plan," Spurrier said. "So we'll have a plan in place and see what happens."

Spurrier's plan likely will include trying to establish the running game early to keep the score close at halftime and give his team a shot in the second half. The Gamecocks have either trailed or led by three points or fewer at the half in every game of their four-game winning streak before outscoring their opponents 59-3 in the third quarter.

"We'll hope this game follows that script," Spurrier said.

Spurrier expects his players to hang loose this week. There should be no pressure on a No. 22-ranked team that has realistic goals of posting a winning season and going to a bowl game.

On the other side, 'Bama has its sights set on SEC and BCS titles.

Just three weeks after notching the biggest home win in school history, USC has the chance to make history again. The Gamecocks have never beaten a team ranked higher than No. 3.

Unlike the Ole Miss win, this one would come with no caveats.

Quarterback Stephen Garcia said the Gamecocks would have to improve their Kentucky performance "ten-fold" to pull the upset in T-Town.

"It's going to be a hard-fought game. But I feel like we can definitely compete with them, and we can go over there and beat 'em," Garcia said. "We've got to play our best game we've played around here in a long time to beat 'em."

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