Josh Kendall

Here’s how South Carolina can win the SEC East

3 things we learned from South Carolina vs. Missouri

Carson Mason reviews three takeaways from South Carolina's 31-21 win over Missouri at Williams-Brice Stadium.
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Carson Mason reviews three takeaways from South Carolina's 31-21 win over Missouri at Williams-Brice Stadium.

Will Muschamp doesn’t want to talk about it because there’s so much math between here and there, but South Carolina still has a path to the SEC East championship.

Here’s what has to happen for the Gamecocks to win the SEC East: The Gamecocks must beat Florida; Tennessee must beat Kentucky, and Georgia must lose to Auburn.

And that’s just this Saturday.

If all those things happen, AND Florida loses to LSU AND the Volunteers lose to either Missouri or Vanderbilt, then the Gamecocks, Gators, Wildcats and Volunteers all will be 4-4 in the league and tied atop the SEC East. Through the magic of tiebreakers, South Carolina would emerge from that pack and earn the East Division’s spot in the SEC Championship Game.

It’s at 4 p.m. on Dec. 3 in the Georgia Dome, if you want to write it very lightly in pencil on the family calendar. Muschamp won’t be putting it in his datebook just yet.

“I’m not going to go over all the scenarios with our team for the simple reason that it doesn’t matter,” he said Sunday night. “We need to go win the game against a good football team on the road. My emphasis for our team is to take the next step in our program with our team and that’s go beat a good football team on the road.”

The list of subplots surrounding this game is so rich that the details of South Carolina’s last trip to The Swamp (which now is officially called Steve Spurrier-Florida Field) rank only about third. That was the Gamecocks’ last road win anywhere other than Vanderbilt, and it was one of the most unlikely of Spurrier’s 10-and-a-half years at South Carolina. The Gamecocks blocked a field goal and a punt in the final four minutes and won 23-21 in overtime.

Muschamp was fired the next day and hasn’t coached an SEC game in The Swamp since. That will change Saturday, and suddenly the game could be very important to South Carolina’s season.

Mathematically, the number of things that have to break the Gamecocks’ way to make them SEC East champions is so high as to make it unlikely. But it’s not impossible. In fact, two of the three things that have to happen this week are expected to happen. Tennessee is a 12.5-point favorite against Kentucky, and Auburn is a 10-point favorite against Georgia.

The only upset that would have to occur is South Carolina, a two-touchdown underdog, beating the Gators, and that became a little more likely Monday, at least theoretically, when Florida announced starting quarterback Luke Del Rio won’t play with to a shoulder injury.

“It’s about understanding you have to take care of today. It’s not about the East,” Gators coach Jim McElwain said Monday. “It’s about getting yourself a little bit better every day. At times we do that. This last week we didn’t.”

The SEC East, frankly, should be embarrassed by all of this mess. This is not a division in which a bunch of great teams are beating up on each other. This is a division where nobody is much good.

Florida is in first place at the moment. Last week, they rushed for 12 yards and were whipped 31-10 by Arkansas, which is tied for fifth in the West. Ole Miss, which is last on the other side of the division, beat Georgia 45-14 earlier this year. In nine cross-over games within the conference this year, the East has won once (Kentucky 40, Mississippi State 38). Jeff Sagarin’s computer rankings say that the SEC East is the worst division among the Power 5 conferences, and no one with eyes should argue against that.

With one more upset and a few more good breaks, the rejuvenated Gamecocks can take advantage of all this mediocrity.

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