In sports, there’s something about the way certain numbers can elicit feelings.
A 1,004-yard rusher feels much different than a 985-yard rusher. The difference between a .301 and .298 hitter feels larger than 3/10ths of one percent. This might come through most vividly in football records, especially college football.
Going 7-5 feels much different than 8-4, and 9-3 or 10-2, in turn, feels different as well.
With a win against Florida on Saturday, South Carolina is in the driver’s seat to reach at least eight wins (give or take a game against FCS No. 8 Wofford). Considering where this team started and what it’s come through, that would be big.
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The Gamecocks came into the year with a potentially great offense and a defense pocked with question marks. They had a schedule with what looked like a brutal back stretch, and eight wins seemed like an optimistic projection with good breaks.
That was before USC lost its top running back and wide receiver to injuries, before the offense was up-and-down, before losses to Kentucky and a flighty Texas A&M team.
True, the schedule opened up, with Arkansas, Tennessee and Florida all being worse than projected, but a battered Gamecocks team has been able to take advantage, and has to do it once more.
That means corralling big-play receiver Tyrie Cleveland, not letting an anemic passing game get rhythm and keeping a sometimes-OK ground game at that level. And on the other side, it means breaking some big plays on a defense that gives them up in bunches.
From an emotional side, it seems Florida is in disarray, but with interim coaches, teams tend to be unstable (granted the performance against Missouri makes it seem more likely there’s not much fight).
The Gamecocks are in position to close toward a plateau they’ve not reached since 2013. They’re coming off a better-than-expected performance against a team that looks dead in the water.
They probably finish this off.
The Pick: South Carolina 31, Florida 13