South Carolina Football's New Path to the SEC Championship Game

Charles BennettContributor IOctober 14, 2013

South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier knows the Gamecocks have a long road ahead to win the SEC East.
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier knows the Gamecocks have a long road ahead to win the SEC East.Beth Hall-USA TODAY Sports

Missouri's 41-26 upset of Georgia on Saturday puts an entirely different spin on the race in the SEC East, and it's a good one for the Gamecocks.

Here's coach Steve Spurrier attempting to lend clarity, at least in terms of what it means for South Carolina.

"We've mentioned just briefly that we're still in the hunt for whatever we're in until we're not," Spurrier said.

Well, it's a relief to settle all accounts on that issue.

Actually, Spurrier's muddled comment sort of nails it.  What was once considered a three-team race between Georgia, South Carolina and Florida now has another challenger in what could become a complicated mess before everything is said and done.

Missouriconsidered an afterthought in the SEC East before the season began and picked sixth in the SEC's preseason media pollis now in the driver's seat.

The Tigers are 6-0 overall and 2-0 in the SEC East. Just behind at 3-1 are Georgia, South Carolina and Florida. However, Missouri's spot at the top may be short-lived. The Tigers' victory at Georgia came at a terrible price.

Senior quarterback James Franklin may be out as long as six weeks with a shoulder injury. He'll be replaced in the lineup by redshirt freshman Maty Mauk.

The Tigers entertain Florida and South Carolina over the next two weeks, and they also have formidable games the final two weeks of the season against SEC West foes Ole Miss and Texas A&M.

Despite the resounding victory over Georgia, the remainder of the SEC slate may be a reality check for a Missouri team that has otherwise feasted on a schedule loaded with cupcakes.

Meanwhile, major injury problems also extend to Georgia and Florida, leaving South Carolina with an honest shot at winning the school's second SEC East title.

The simplest scenario that puts the Gamecocks in the SEC Championship game requires South Carolina to win out and needs Georgia to lose one more conference game. The Bulldogs' toughest remaining SEC games are against Florida in Jacksonville, and at Auburn.

It's a very real possibility for South Carolina to run the table on what it has left, so long as the Gamecocks can continue to avoid the major injuries to key personnel that have plagued Georgia and Florida this season. 

South Carolina wide receiver Bruce Ellington (left) exhanges high fives with tailback Mike Davis.
South Carolina wide receiver Bruce Ellington (left) exhanges high fives with tailback Mike Davis.Beth Hall-USA TODAY Sports

Thanks to the play of quarterback Connor Shaw and tailback Mike Davis, South Carolina's offense is operating at a school-record pace in total yardage. The defense showed signs in last week's 52-7 victory over Arkansas that it may be coming together.

South Carolina plays at Tennessee on Saturday and at Missouri the following week. If the Gamecocks somehow get past those two opponents, their last four games are at home.

Spurrier wisely knows better than to look too far ahead.

"We haven't given up hope, but we don't sit around talking about winning the East that much," he said. "We just try to talk about beating the next opponent. Sometimes you can look pretty foolish talking about winning the SEC and things like that and end up losing three or four in a row. We know where we are, and we know there's a chance if we can play pretty close to how we've played this past week."


Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained first hand.