South Carolina and Florida are set for a landscape-changing showdown this coming Saturday. Both teams are currently in the BCS Top 10, battling for position in the SEC East.
This contest has SEC and national title implications layered throughout, with a number of top players taking the field for Florida and South Carolina.
Connor Shaw is having an amazing junior year despite having a shoulder injury to start the season. Mike Gillislee has exploded onto the scene for Florida, carrying the football with purpose and making big plays for the Gators offense.
Looking ahead to the SEC showdown of the week, here are the top 12 players that will take the field in Gainesville.
Ace Sanders is an impact junior for the Gamecocks as a receiver and an electric punt return man. Sanders is a guy that you punt away from as often as possible.
Through the first few weeks of 2012, Sanders has 17 receptions for 159 yards and four touchdowns. He has also returned 18 punts for 313 yards and one touchdown.
Sanders can make plays all over the field and is a guy that can change a game in 30 seconds or less. He will be a player to keep your eye on this Saturday.
Damiere Byrd is the second most explosive player that will take the field for the Gamecocks on Saturday. He has caught 12 passes this season for 303 yards and two touchdowns.
Byrd’s longest reception was a 94-yard touchdown.
Through the first seven games, Byrd leads the Gamecocks in receiving yards. He is averaging 23.5 yards per catch and has made a play in every game that South Carolina has played in.
Through the first seven weeks of football, D.J. Swearinger has been bringing the wood. He was handed a one-game suspension for a hit which knocked out a UAB receiver and missed the game against Missouri as a result.
His best game came against LSU this past week, when Swearinger finished the game with 10 total tackles (five solo).
The senior safety may play well in coverage, but the key in this game will be the run. Jeff Driskel and Mike Gillislee will be looking to get the ground game going in this contest. Swearinger will be a big part of the Gamecocks' solution.
Throughout the first half of the season, Jeff Driskel has been looking to find the easy passes that come with big targets. Jordan Reed has fit the role well for the young Gators quarterback.
Reed leads the Gators in receptions, hauling in 21 passes for 237 yards and a touchdown this season. He has caught three or more passes in five of six games this season.
The rushing game also relies on the blocking ability of the junior tight end. Mike Gillislee has seen a lot of running room thanks to the blocks paved by Reed.
Jeff Driskel started the season in the midst of a quarterback competition. There was no clear-cut leader in the race prior to the year, but it was apparent that Driskel had won the job within the first week.
Driskel has not won games for the Gators with his arm yet, but he has won games with his legs. Against Vanderbilt, Driskel had 177 yards rushing and only 77 yards passing.
There will come a time when Driskel will need to pass a little more, but his ground game has so far been enough to keep the Gators chomping up opposing defenses and marching toward wins.
Driskel has thrown for 836 yards, four touchdowns and only one interception so far this fall. He also has two games with over 200 yards through the air. Driskel will be one of the major players in this contest.
Jon Bostic is an animal for the Florida defense. He has five or more tackles in five of six games and three sacks on the season. He is an emotional leader for the defense and has provided a lot of big plays for the Gators this fall.
Bostic has elite speed and size for his position, and can blow up the run from the middle of the defense.
Bostic will play a big role in this game. His ability to read the option-read offense and stop Marcus Lattimore will be a big determining factor in the success of the Florida defense.
The Gators need this win to hold a Top-Five ranking. They need a big game from Bostic for that to happen.
Matt Elam is one half of the best safety tandem in the SEC this season. He was a big player heading into this year, but he is now an elite SEC defender.
Elam is a junior for the Gators and is a tackling master from the safety position. Against Tennessee, he had a season-high 10 tackles, seven of which were solo. He has since had two consecutive games with seven total tackles, 13 of which were solo.
When a secondary is as good as this Florida unit is, it starts with the leadership at safety. Elam puts on a show every Saturday, but also directs a young but talented unit to success.
Mike Gillislee has been a surprise find for the Gators offense in 2012. He has been in the offense for four seasons, but this year’s 120 carries almost surpasses his total through his first three years.
Gillislee hit the ground running this summer and fall. He wanted to make a name for himself in his final season with the Gators.
Teammate Lerentee McCray said, “I think he might have a 1,000-yard season,” when asked about Gillislee by the Columbia Tribune in August.
He may be right.
Gillislee currently has 615 yards on the ground and seven rushing touchdowns. This has been a big year for the Florida running game. They need it to continue with Gillislee leading the charge.
Josh Evans is the second half of the dangerous duo that roams the back of the Florida secondary. Evans and Elam are the types of safeties that haunt quarterbacks' dreams.
Evans is a hard-hitter, just like Elam, and is now leading the Gators in tackles with 31 stops. He had a huge game against LSU with five tackles and a sack.
The combo pack that is Evans and Elam will be dangerous for the Gamecocks offense. Shaw will need to have a big game to overcome the talents that await in the Florida secondary.
Marcus Lattimore has been impressive in his return this season after suffering a knee injury that cut last year short. Through the first seven games, Lattimore has 584 yards on 129 carries, and he's rushed for 10 touchdowns.
Lattimore has also added 22 catches to his stat line, as well as 156 receiving yards.
Lattimore has three 100-yard games, and has scored a rushing touchdown in every single contest this year. If Lattimore has a big game against the Gators, South Carolina will walk away with the upset and a new Top-Five ranking.
Connor Shaw has turned in one of the most impressive performances from the quarterback position this season. Shaw has completed 69.4 percent of his passes, and has thrown for 910 yards and nine touchdowns.
Shaw is also the Gamecocks' second leading rusher, gaining 280 yards on the ground and adding one score. All of this has come after a Week 1 shoulder injury against Vanderbilt.
The injury has continued to bother Shaw, but he has pushed through and put together a very good year for the South Carolina offense.
When Clowney steps on the field, there is no doubt that he is the best player on the grass. Clowney is a sophomore beast for the Gamecocks defense and has put together an impressive year from the defensive end position.
Clowney has a sack in five of seven games for the Gamecocks, and has registered at least four tackles in six of the seven contests so far.
Jeff Driskel will have a day trying to get away from this defender. Clowney should be able to make it into the Gators backfield often.
Clowney is the most dangerous player that will take the field this weekend. He is a game-changer. Whether it is a forced fumble or a key sack, there will be a play that Clowney makes that changes the face of this football game.