South Carolina Football: Missouri Game Biggest of Year for Gamecocks

Charles BennettContributor IOctober 25, 2013

South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier knows Saturday's game at Missouri is huge for the Gamecocks.
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier knows Saturday's game at Missouri is huge for the Gamecocks.Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Forget all that mindless coach speak: "Each game counts the same. No game is more important than another. This is the biggest game of the year because it's the next game."

That's not how Steve Spurrier rolls.

Plain and simple, South Carolina's head football coach knows a big game when he sees one and isn't afraid to admit it.

South Carolina plays at Missouri on Saturday, and Spurrier knows that what remains of the Gamecocks' hopes for a big season rides on the outcome.

"It's a huge game for us," Spurrier said. "It's a game that's going to decide whether we're in the division hunt or not. Simple as that. I think all our players know that."

Before the season started, it's highly unlikely that anyone associated with South Carolina's football team circled the Oct. 26 game at Missouri as the biggest game on the Gamecocks' schedule.

Now that it's here, it's a different story.

Here's Missouri, unbeaten at 7-0, 3-0 in the SEC and ranked No. 5 in the first BCS rankings. That's actually higher than the Tigers were picked to finish in the SEC East. A preseason media poll had them in sixth.

The Tigers already own conference victories over Vanderbilt, Georgia and Florida. A victory Saturday all but locks up the SEC East title for Missouri barring total collapse, and total collapse doesn't seem possible.

The remaining schedule finds Missouri at home against Tennessee, on the road against Kentucky and Ole Miss, and at home against Texas A&M.

The Gamecocks, meanwhile, are 5-2 (3-2 SEC) and ranked No. 21 in the BCS. Their path forward remains simplebeat Missouri, win the remaining conference games at home against Mississippi State and Florida and hope the Tigers stumble somewhere else along the way.

Another loss by Georgia would also be necessary since the Bulldogs hold the head-to-head tiebreaker against the Gamecocks.

If there's a three-way tie between Georgia, South Carolina and Missouri, then it matters who the Tigers lost to.

If it's an SEC West foe, the Tigers still win the East because they would have a better record against SEC East division foes than either Georgia or South Carolina.

If all three teams finish with identical records against the SEC East, then the tiebreaker becomes which team is ranked highest in the BCS. There is one caveat. If the top two of those three teams are separated by five spots or fewer in the standings, then it reverts to head-to-head.

First things first.

What to make of Missouri?

The Tigers have piled up impressive offensive numbers, although their first four games were laughably softMurray State, Toledo, Indiana and Arkansas State.

Since entering conference play, the Tigers have polished off Vanderbilt 51-28, Georgia 41-26 and Florida 36-17.

Both Georgia and Florida were riddled with injuries, but the Tigers lost senior quarterback James Franklin and still beat the Gators.

Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk had a successful debut against Florida.
Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk had a successful debut against Florida./Getty Images

Redshirt freshman Maty Mauk stepped in and ran the offense efficiently.

And what to make of South Carolina?

South Carolina's offense had operated consistently in every game until last week's 23-21 loss at Tennessee.

Quarterback Connor Shaw was injured in that game, and now the Gamecocks will turn to junior Dylan Thompson, a battle-tested junior who should be up to the task.

Obviously, the oddsmakers don't know what to make of this one. South Carolina opened as a five-point favorite, but furious wagering on the Tigers at last check had Missouri favored by 2.5 points.

Spurrier likes the underdog role for the Gamecocks.

"Missouri is a very good team," Spurrier said. "They're getting a lot of attention, which they deserve. We're not going to get too much attention this week. Like I told the team, 'We're on TV, but the nation wants to watch Missouri. They don't want to watch us now after losing a game.' Maybe we can go out there and show them something, hopefully, so that's what we'll try to do."

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise indicated.