South Carolina—a team whose mantra had been to mind their own business, win games, watch Georgia lose and wait around for the SEC East to sort itself out—now finds itself to be just another two-loss SEC squad. And after falling apart against Tennessee on Saturday, some pundits are wondering whether the Gamecocks will ever reach the Promised Land.
Mathematically, the Gamecocks can still win their division, but to do so now won't be easy.
What could happen...
The Gamecocks usually drop one game they have no business dropping. (Remember that inexplicable loss to Kentucky in 2010? Or how about the turd they laid against a down Auburn squad in 2011?)
So for argument's sake, let's pretend their annual bonehead loss was Saturday's loss against Tennessee. In a best-case scenario, South Carolina bounces back and wins out the rest of their SEC slate, which would include wins over No. 5 Mizzou (7-0, 3-0 SEC) on Saturday, Mississippi State (3-3, 0-2 SEC) and Florida (4-3, 3-2 SEC) to finish 6-2 in conference play.
With the Gamecocks owning the head-to-head against Mizzou (in this scenario), Missouri would still need to drop two conference games. Suddenly, this doesn't seem so far-fetched given how the Tigers' season wraps up with brutal, back-to-back contests against a resurgent Mississippi team (4-3, 2-3 SEC) and Heisman-helmed No. 16 Texas A&M (5-2, 2-2 SEC).
What will probably happen...
On defense, South Carolina looked soft in the middle against Tennessee. The "Mothership" is still trying to convince everyone that Clowney is the same Clowney he was against Michigan in January, but against the Vols he forced no fumbles and registered zero interceptions. This means, among other things, that less-famous veterans like J.T. Surratt and Sharrod Golightly really need to step up their games to balance out the Gamecocks' hot-and-cold offense.
If South Carolina can make it out of Mizzou with a win, the rest of their SEC slate sets up pretty nicely.
With quarterback Connor Shaw iffy against Mizzou on Saturday (a report Sunday evening confirmed that Shaw suffered a knee sprain), South Carolina will need to travel to Missouri ready to score some points if they want to get out of there with a win. If they insist on making Saturday's game against Mizzou a defensive struggle, they will probably lose.
And their hopes of SEC East glory likely won't make the long trek back to Columbia with them.