Let’s go ahead and be crazy and assume that South Carolina is going to beat both Western Carolina AND Missouri. That doesn’t seem so unreasonable with the Gamecocks having a little momentum and the Tigers losing a slew of players to injuries.
Under that scenario, South Carolina then has to beat either Tennessee, Florida or Clemson to earn six wins and the accompanying bowl eligibility. Not to put too much pressure on the weekend, but this is the game of those three that Gamecocks need to win.
For starters, unlike the Florida and Clemson games, Saturday’s game against Tennessee is at home. Not only is it at home, but it’s at night on Halloween weekend. Add to that the general goofiness of this series the last four years and this feels like the most winnable of what we’ll be calling The Big Three.
The things that South Carolina really struggles with – running the ball and stopping the run (not great things to struggle with admittedly) – are not things the Volunteers look well-equipped to exploit. Tennessee is 11th in the SEC in run defense and 10th in rushing offense. (South Carolina’s running game took a hit Thursday night when head coach Will Muschamp announced on his radio show that right guard Donnell Stanley is not expected to return from a high ankle sprain.)
Although the running game will be the foundation of the game, all Gamecock eyes will be on South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley, who will be making his second career start and first against an SEC opponent. The uptick in competition from last week against UMass will be eye-opening for Bentley and how well he handles it will go a long way to determining if South Carolina can keep this game under the 13-point spread or even pull an upset.
Maybe the weirdest stat heading into today’s game is this – neither of these head coaches has ever lost to the other school. Despite his struggles at Florida, Will Muschamp was 4-0 against the Volunteers. Butch Jones is 3-0 against the Gamecocks. Muschamp has mentioned again and again this week what a good job Jones has done recruiting for his program. That work will pay off for Jones and the Volunteers this week, although the score will be closer than Las Vegas thinks.
Tennessee 24, South Carolina 21