Welcome back to the spotlight South Carolina.
For the first time since Oct. 20, 2012, the Gamecocks will play in the SEC’s marquee Saturday time slot. It’s an opportunity for South Carolina (6-2 overall, 4-2 SEC) to announce to a wide audience that it’s ahead of schedule in head coach Will Muschamp’s second season of a rebuilding project.
“I don’t think we have gained the recognition that we kind of deserve, especially defensively, but I think this is a game that is a statement game and can send a message to the nation about the 2017 Gamecocks,” Gamecocks sophomore linebacker T.J. Brunson said.
There’s a chance, of course, that the message is not the one South Carolina wants to send. The Bulldogs (8-0, 5-0) are ranked No. 1 in the College Football Playoff rankings, No. 2 in the Associated Press poll and are 24.5-point favorites.
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“It’s a great opportunity for us just to show that we’re a pretty good team,” Gamecocks defensive end D.J. Wonnum said. “If we come out here and beat them, that will be a good thing on a national stage.”
From a rankings perspective, a victory would be the second-biggest win in South Carolina’s football history. The Gamecocks beat then-No. 1 Alabama 35-21 on Oct. 9, 2010. South Carolina has never beaten a second-ranked team.
“I feel like every week is an opportunity to show everybody how good we are,” Gamecocks safety Chris Lammons said. “This week is going to be a big game and I feel like we should come out with the victory as long as we do what we have to do.”
The Gamecocks would be eliminated from the SEC East race with a loss. If they beat the Bulldogs and beat Florida on Nov. 11 and Georgia loses to either No. 16 Auburn or Kentucky in the coming weeks.
“Our goal is to win the East and that’s what we’ve been working for since this summer,” quarterback Jake Bentley said. “That’s what we break down every team meeting with. We know what our goals are and we have always had that mindset of making it to Atlanta.”
The Bulldogs are the first ranked opponent South Carolina has played this season. The Gamecocks’ four SEC wins have come against teams with a combined 1-18 conference record. South Carolina was 1-4 against ranked opponents in Muschamp’s first season as head coach.
“I feel like we are going to be ready whatever is in front of us,” running back A.J. Turner said. “We know who we are playing this week. We know that they are good. They are a solid team. They have great offense, defense, great team speed. It’s just a matter of us going up there and bring what we got, South Carolina football and play how we play.”