South Carolina’s football team can still win the SEC East. It knows it can still win the SEC East. It just doesn’t want to talk about possibly winning the SEC East.
“Well, yeah, that’s one of our goals,” Gamecocks quarterback Jake Bentley said. “That’s what we try to do, but at the end of the day, we just have to win, we have to take care of the games that we play in, and we can’t worry about what has to happen with other teams or what the scenarios are.”
The Gamecocks (5-2 overall, 3-2 SEC) return from their season’s only open date to play Vanderbilt (3-4, 0-4) on Saturday at 4 p.m. in Williams-Brice Stadium. Four teams remain in contention for the division crown – No. 3 Georgia (7-0, 4-0), Florida (3-3, 3-2), Kentucky (5-2, 2-2) and the Gamecocks.
The path for South Carolina from here to Atlanta would include winning the remainder of its conference games, against the Commodores on Saturday, the Bulldogs on Nov. 4 and the Gators on Nov. 11, plus have Georgia lose to either Florida, Auburn or Kentucky plus have the Wildcats lose one more conference game.
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It is not a mathematically probable path, but that one remains at all this deep into the season is a testament to the Gamecocks exceeding expectations in coach Will Muschamp’s second season.
“A lot of people thought we weren’t going to have a great record or whatever, but I’m really proud of the guys because no one really got too caught up in that,” Bentley said. “Yeah, we saw it. It’s there, but we knew what we had on our team and how we could play if we executed at a high level.”
The Gamecocks, who were 2-4 at the midpoint of last season, are tied for second in the East with the Gators.
“Being at 2-4 last year, maybe the confidence wasn’t there. We were kind of going on the field hoping we were going to win rather than expecting to win,” Bentley said. “I think that’s really what has changed this year, the mentality of our team, the confidence levels of everyone. Every time we take the field, we expect to win.”
The Commodores have lost four consecutive games in ugly fashion, making them a prime candidate to be overlooked by a South Carolina team that faces the two teams ahead of it in the division race in the following two weeks, which explains why Muschamp spent the first three days of this week telling his team through the media that it better focus fully on Vanderbilt.
“Anything past that really doesn’t matter. We have to accomplish what we need to accomplish on Saturday afternoon,” he said. “That’s been our focus. We haven’t talked about anything other than Vanderbilt in our organization.”
It is incumbent on the team’s older players and leaders to hammer that message home with their teammates, Bentley said.
“I think the older guys have to really lock into the fact that it’s a one-game season. That’s what coach Muschamp has been telling us all week and really all year,” Bentley said. “Our focus is on Vandy. ”
Bentley chose his words carefully with the media this week.
“I think I can say this because coach Muschamp says it all the time, we expect to win now,” he said. “That’s what he always tells us, and that’s what we believe. Never do we think we are not going to win a game. We expect to win every game as every team that takes the field should.”
Who: South Carolina (5-2, 3-2 SEC) vs. Vanderbilt (3-4, 0-4)
When: 4 p.m. Saturday
Where: Williams-Brice Stadium
TV: ESPN Radio: 107.5 FM