South Carolina vs. LSU: Gamecocks Still Control Their Own Destiny Despite Loss

Barrett SalleeSEC Football Lead WriterOctober 14, 2012

South Carolina QB Connor Shaw
South Carolina QB Connor ShawRonald Martinez/Getty Images

I get it, Gamecocks. It hurts.

But winning in Death Valley is never easy, especially when LSU is desperate and coming off of a loss.

The 23-21 loss to LSU certainly won't be any easier to take knowing that LSU's offensive line, which was a sore spot coming in, pushed the usually stout Gamecocks around in the second half.

But it still only counts as one loss, and since South Carolina already holds a tiebreaker over Georgia—one of its two primary competitors in the SEC East—the Gamecocks still control their own destiny in the division.

The game against Florida next week in the Swamp takes on a whole new meaning for Steve Spurrier's Gamecocks. It's now a must-win game for the season to be a success, and "success" in 2012 can only be defined by an SEC East championship.

Even if Georgia beats Florida later in October, wins out, and the three SEC East competitors each have one loss and 1-1 records against each other, South Carolina's 35-7 win over Georgia would loom large. According to the SEC tiebreaker rules, it would come down to BCS rankings unless the top two teams are within five or fewer spots of one other. 

Voters won't like that loss on Georgia's resume, which means that it would probably come down to the head-to-head result of the South Carolina/Florida game.

It's been a slow climb, but Spurrier has built the South Carolina program to the brink of becoming an SEC East juggernaut. The Gamecocks won the 2010 division championship in a season in which they lost four games, and then followed it up with the first 11-win season in program history.

The next step in the process is to be—and act—like a big-time program.

It did on Saturday night, even though the Gamecocks came away with the loss.

The 211-yard performance offensively certainly doesn't suggest that they are ready for that kind of spotlight, but those Tigers on the other side of the ball are SEC players too. That was an old-fashioned slugfest against a good football team, and it came down to the final possession. 

That's nothing to hang your head over.

South Carolina lost on Saturday night because it could not establish a downfield passing threat. Connor Shaw completed 19-of-34 passes for 177 yards, two touchdowns and two fourth-quarter picks. 

Fix that, and South Carolina could go from good to great.

That won't be easy to do next week against a Florida team that is very much in the national title picture. But it's certainly not out of the question, either.

Close the book on Saturday. It's over. 

South Carolina's ultimate dreams may be shattered, but some big ones still remain attainable. That should be Steve Spurrier's focus immediately upon stepping foot in the locker room.

If the Gamecocks can beat the Gators next week and avoid letting the LSU game beat them twice, they will have the inside track to the SEC East championship and a berth in the SEC championship game.

Get there, and you're 60 minutes from a title.

Saturday night's loss notwithstanding, this is still a championship-caliber team. It's going to have to act like it against the Gators next week.