Why South Carolina, Not Florida, Has Better Shot at Beating Alabama

Barrett SalleeSEC Football Lead WriterOctober 9, 2012

South Carolina QB Connor Shaw
South Carolina QB Connor ShawKevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The SEC picture cleared up a bit on Saturday afternoon, when Florida topped LSU 14-6 in Gainesville, and South Carolina followed with a 35-7 drubbing of then-No. 5 Georgia.

South Carolina and Florida both vaulted into the top five as a result of the wins and established themselves not only as legitimate contenders for the SEC title, but real threats for the national title.

But before either team packs up and heads south to Miami Gardens, Fla., for the BCS Championship Game, they'll have to get through the SEC Championship Game and a date with the SEC West champ, which, at this point, looks like it should be Alabama (unless LSU learns how to pass block sometime in the not-too-distant future).

So which team has a better shot at dethroning the mighty Crimson Tide? I wouldn't discount either team as a legitimate possibility, but based on what we've seen so far this season, the edge goes to South Carolina.

Nothing against Florida, but South Carolina is just a more complete team right now.

They are executing well in every aspect of the game.

Defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward, who has held that title since 2009, stepped in for Ellis Johnson this season as the man in charge of the defense, and it hasn't missed a beat. The Gamecocks currently boast the SEC's third-best defense (278 yards per game), third-best third-down defense (30.34 percent) and most prolific pass rush (24 sacks).

The Gamecocks held a Georgia team that was averaging 556 yards per game to just 224 on Saturday night and were on the brink of a shutout until the Bulldogs punched in a garbage touchdown late in the fourth quarter.

Offensively, the Gamecocks have been on fire ever since quarterback Connor Shaw came back from his shoulder injury. He's thrown just eight incompletions during his last three games while tossing six touchdowns, averaging 65 rushing yards per game and scoring one touchdown.

The Gamecocks haven't discovered a downfield threat in place of Alshon Jeffery yet, but Bruce Ellington has been good in the limited opportunities he's had downfield.

Nobody seems to worry about running back Marcus Lattimore anymore after he tore his ACL last season. That speaks volumes. The junior has rushed for 549 yards and nine touchdowns and is flying under the radar in the Heisman Trophy debate.

Percentage-wise, South Carolina hasn't been great in the red zone. The Gamecocks have scored on 77.8 percent of their opportunities this season, which is the eighth-best mark in the SEC. But their 19 red-zone touchdowns are tied for the SEC lead with Georgia.

If that wasn't enough, Ace Sanders is averaging 15.8 yards per punt return and made highlight reels across the country last weekend with his punt return for a touchdown vs. Georgia. When your punt returner is getting a first down-and-a-half before the offense even takes the field, that's a huge benefit for any team.

There is still some mystery surrounding Florida's passing game, and in particular, whether or not Jeff Driskel can be an effective passer. He probably can be, but he hasn't been asked to be yet. 

That question may not have to be answered if Mike Gillislee keeps running the way he has been so far this season. But Alabama is only giving up 65 rushing yards per game, so Florida's going to have to find its passing game before becoming a serious threat to Alabama's SEC throne.

The SEC East is on the rise, and South Carolina and Florida are leading the charge. Either can give Alabama a major challenge in the Georgia Dome. Right now, South Carolina has the edge on Florida.