Josh Kendall

This is why Saturday is a really big deal for South Carolina

South Carolina and Florida are playing for third place in the SEC East on Saturday. Neither can finish second or higher. Neither can finish fifth or lower. On a tangible level, this game is not a big deal on a national scale.

However, there are some intangibles that make this game a very big deal for the Gamecocks at least. South Carolina entered Will Muschamp’s third season as head coach in an awkward spot – not quite ready to contend for the division title and in need of a positive marker of progress outside of that achievement.

Today’s game offers that. The Gamecocks (6-3, 4-3 SEC) won nine games last year and so far are having a similar season this year, having lost to Georgia, Kentucky and Texas A&M, three of the four teams they lost to a year ago. If South Carolina can beat the Gators, it will have posted back-to-back winning seasons in the SEC for just the fourth time in school history, it will snap an eight-game losing streak against ranked teams and it will make another nine-win season a realistic possibility. Those are all significant things.

There will be a lot of things working against South Carolina on Saturday. The Gamecocks are 6-point underdogs and beset by injuries. Four safeties are out for the game and/or the season; the top two running backs are questionable due to injury, and defensive ends Bryson Allen-Williams and Aaron Sterling may not play and probably will be slowed by injury if they do. And, of course, there’s the fact the Gamecocks have only won twice in their history on Florida’s home field.

However, there are also some factors working in the Gamecocks’ favor. Chiefly, the fact that the Gators are under a lot of pressure. No one around the program expects The Swamp to be close to full or particularly formidable in terms of home field advantage on Saturday. Florida head coach Dan Mullen clearly doesn’t have a lot of confidence in starting quarterback Feliepe Franks but is stuck with him after backup Kyle Trask suffered a season-ending injury during practice this week.

South Carolina’s offensive line has been its most consistent unit all season. If that group can keep Jake Bentley upright and make room for whichever running back has the ball, the Gamecocks will upset the Gators in The Swamp.

South Carolina 24, Florida 21