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Heed this Wildcats warning

Rich Brooks made a comment Sunday that might strike some as delusional - or, at best, a reach.

But South Carolina fans, or at least its players, had better take it to heart.

The Kentucky coach, still trying to get the number of the trucks that ran over his team the past two weeks, was asked about South Carolina, the Wildcats' next opponent. Brooks gave the usual compliments (Eric Norwood is a premier player, the offense looks better, etc.) then added this:

"I just think they're a team that's trying to do what we're trying to do. They're trying to move up the SEC ladder, and this will be a pivotal game to determine which team will be able to do that," Brooks said.

At first blush, that seems a stretch. USC is a ranked team (albeit only as of Sunday, and at No. 25), has a big win on its resume and has an outside chance to win the division title. Kentucky has lost its past two games by a combined 52 points and needs to be more worried about staying out of last place in the SEC East.

Which is why USC had better be careful.

As hardened fans are painfully aware, the Gamecocks' history is littered with unexpected losses: Vanderbilt the past two years; Navy in 1984; a few Clemson games.

When this season started, there were four games USC knew it would be favored to win: Florida Atlantic, S.C. State, Kentucky and Vanderbilt. USC survived the first two.

Vanderbilt? You would think there would be no three-peat, because there is no way the Gamecocks won't be prepared for the Commodores this time.

But Kentucky ... well, let's see. The Gamecocks have defeated the Wildcats nine consecutive times. Steve Spurrier has not lost to Kentucky, beating them by an average of 26 points (14.2 at USC).

There's no official definition of trap game, but it requires at least two things: a seemingly inferior opponent and a big game to look ahead to.

I'd say No. 3 Alabama, which USC plays after Kentucky, fulfills the second qualification.

Given all that, this might have been the best sign for the Gamecocks on Saturday: As they sat in their hotel before the game, they were not watching Clemson lose to Maryland, as most Gamecock fans were. They were watching Kentucky play Alabama.

Kentucky trailed 7-6 before Alabama scored two touchdowns in a 19-second span late in the second quarter. The Wildcats then committed turnovers on three consecutive possessions, spanning both halves, to turn the game into a rout.

"They played pretty well," USC quarterback Stephen Garcia of Kentucky. "I think their offense could've helped them out a little bit. But their defense, they've got some big linebackers. Some big, physical, strong linebackers. And we've just gotta play to our capability and come out and knock them out flat."

Kentucky's chances of pulling an upset will take a hit if star cornerback Trevard Lindley can't play after injuring his left ankle against the Tide. (He's doubtful, according to Brooks.)

During his postgame news conference Saturday, Garcia sounded almost disgusted when he talked about the team's roughshod first half against S.C. State:

"We talk about new Carolina, this and that. We gotta start coming out with a lot more fire and intensity. So hopefully we can do it."

The next opportunity comes against Kentucky. If USC truly is progressing as a program, this is the kind of game in which the Gamecocks can send a message. Not to the nation or to the league, but to themselves. They avoid a letdown, they avoid looking ahead, they avoid playing well for only one half.

That didn't happen against Florida Atlantic or S.C. State. But if USC can accomplish those things against an SEC squad, the team will have taken a step forward.

If not, well, don't say you weren't warned.

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