Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, October 19, 2012 at 1:00 PM
What a difference a couple of weeks can make! Two Saturdays ago, South Carolina was playing Georgia with a chance to gain control of the resurgent SEC East and move near the top of the BCS Rankings…while Florida was a potential lightweight home underdog against powerful LSU. Now, it’s Florida sitting at #2 in the BCS poll after stunning LSU and vanquishing Vanderbilt…while South Carolina must deal with illness and injuries knowing its season is on the line Saturday afternoon in Gainesville.
A quick review:
*South Carolina played GREAT against Georgia, temporarily taking control of the SEC East
*Florida played GREAT at least defensively against LSU, and established for certain that they would also be a factor in the SEC East
*South Carolina had to follow up its win over Georgia with a badly timed trip to LSU. They were beat up physically in that game, and were beaten much worse than the final score would indicate. That’s a conference loss, which put the SEC East race back in play.
*Florida’s win over Vanderbilt helped strengthen a resume that suddenly looked great nationally. The Gators had wins over LSU and Texas A&M, and were undefeated at a stage in the season where many other projected powers had already faltered. When the first official edition of the BCS Rankings came out, the Gators were all the way up at #2!
Suddenly, it’s FLORIDA who’s best positioned to win the SEC East…it’s FLORIDA who’s looking at a possible SEC Championship showdown against Alabama…and it’s FLORIDA who might be in position to face Alabama in back-to-back weeks with a BCS crown on the line if both teams can continue playing at a high level.
There’s plenty of season left…and BCS CHAOS could certainly strike the SEC in the same way it’s struck the Big 12 (with Oklahoma, West Virginia, and Texas already losing), the Pac 12 (with Southern Cal having a loss), and even the ACC (where Florida State’s juggernaut inexplicably fell at NC State). Florida wants to dodge that bullet Saturday against South Carolina. Let’s crunch our preview numbers to see how things might play out.
SOUTH CAROLINA AT FLORIDA (3:30 p.m. on CBS)
Las Vegas Spread: Florida by 3.5, total of 41.5
The line moved past the critical number of three on news that South Carolina was dealing with the flu, multiple nagging injuries, and a hip injury to start running back Marcus Lattimore that may limit his effectiveness. It takes a lot of money to move off a three in football…particularly against a high quality defense. That injury news was given a lot of respect by the market. Note that the total is down from an opener of 44 because the Gamecocks are most likely to be hit hardest on offense…and because Florida tends to run the ball with a lead.
CURRENT BCS RANKINGS
S. Carolina: 7th
Our proprietary Power Rankings don’t have Florida as the second best team in the country. If you grabbed the top ten teams and had them play a round robin…we don’t think Florida would finish second. The offense struggle badly through most of the LSU game…and generally needs to wear down opponents to win. That gets tougher later in the season in a top conference like the SEC. Were this game being played two weeks ago…we’re possibly looking at pick-em for the Vegas line.
All that being said…Florida is likely better than shorthanded South Carolina! And, the Gators catch the Gamecocks at the ideal time off emotional and physical battles with Georgia and LSU. If South Carolina’s health issues are as bad as reported, then they’ll have trouble hanging tough for four full quarters…and they’ll drop out of the top 10 of the BCS Rankings with a loss.
S. Carolina: Steve Spurrier
Florida: Will Muschamp
Here’s the rub. Steve Spurrier is very smart…and much of this health/injury news could be smoke just because he’s playing mind games against a younger coach. Spurrier knows that the LSU result isn’t a killer as long as SC can win at Florida. Owning victories over both Georgia and Florida would look great in the tie-breaker picture in the East. Perhaps SC was saving up something last week for this week. And, perhaps Spurrier is laying a trap for Saturday’s return to his old stomping grounds. We’ll learn a lot about Muschamp’s true coaching savvy this weekend, that’s for sure. Is he really the next big thing? A victory here solidifying a #2 BCS ranking would make that case very emphatically.
S. Carolina: Connor Shaw
Florida: Jeff Driskel
Both of these young men have issues vs. quality defenses. And, both are actually most dangerous scrambling away from trouble when standard fare isn’t working. Driskel basically beat Vandy by himself last week by sprinting past everyone like he wanted to do RGIII sandwich commercials. If both defenses can patiently contain both quarterbacks…then victory will come down to the running game or turnovers. The SEC just isn’t a quarterback conference when the top teams battle each other. We do want to note that Driskel has exceeded our expectations as a running threat and in terms of leadership. By late November we may be driving a Driskel bandwagon.
LAST WEEK’S BOXES
LSU 23, SOUTH CAROLINA 21
Total Yardage: S. Carolina 211, LSU 407
Rushing Yards: S. Carolina 31, LSU 259
Passing Stats: S. Carolina 19-34-2-180, LSU 12-25-1-148
Turnovers: S. Carolina 2, LSU 1
Third Downs: S. Carolina 23%, LSU 58%
Vegas Line: LSU by 2.5, total of 39
You can see what we mean about the game being much more one-sided than the score indicated. South Carolina may have backed off a bit in terms of physicality given that astonishing differential on the ground. Yet, they were still in position to steal a victory at the end despite getting outgained 407-211 while losing the turnover battle. LSU should have won this game by two touchdowns!
FLORIDA 31, VANDERBILT 17
Total Yardage: Florida 402, Vanderbilt 361
Rushing Yards: Florida 325, Vanderbilt 124
Passing Stats: Florida 11-20-0-77, Vanderbilt 17-31-0-237
Turnovers: Florida 0, Vanderbilt 1
Third Downs: Florida 18%, Vanderbilt 41%
Vegas Line: Florida by 9, total of 39
The strengths and weaknesses of Driskel are apparent in those numbers. His passing was barely visible on a team that was almost a double digit favorite. Yet, he broke several long runs that led the Gators to the win and the Vegas cover. You’re doing something if you rush for over 300 yards in an SEC game! Note that both Florida and SC struggled on third downs last week…suggesting that we may see a replay of the punt-fest that Florida and LSU played on this field two weeks ago.
It really depends on the health of Lattimore. If he can’t go, then South Carolina is going to have trouble driving the field and putting points on the board. If he’s anywhere near his usual self…then we have a coin flip slugfest JIM HURLEY is working closely with his sources to get a true read on what’s happening with the Gamecocks. This could be a double digit cover in either direction based on what he finds out. South Carolina can win this game and re-take control of the SEC East. Florida could grind up a physically drained visitor on the way to an SEC East title by a rejuvenated BCS power.
The selection, if we have one, will go up Saturday morning here at the website. Check the home page for big play bulletins on what’s shaping up as one of the best college football days of the entire season. Game day releases are always available for credit card purchase here at the website (don’t forget about Connecticut/Syracuse Friday Night on ESPN!). If you have any questions about NETWORK service, call the office at 1-800-323-4453.
Back with you Saturday to preview the Kansas State-West Virginia game set for prime time on FOX. There are blockbusters all over the card. Go on safari with BIG GAME HUNTER JIM HURLEY!