COLUMBIA, S.C.—The part of South Carolina's SEC football season that it can control comes to an end Saturday.
The Gamecocks (7-2, 5-2 SEC) play Florida (4-5, 3-4 SEC) at 7 p.m. at Williams-Brice Stadium in their final conference game of the season, and by the time they tee it up, they will probably know whether they're still playing for first place or for an also-ran status in the SEC East.
Georgia plays at Auburn at 3:30 p.m., with a Georgia victory all but eliminating the Gamecocks from the SEC East race, and an Auburn victory leaving South Carolina with a rooters' chance at its second SEC East championship in 21 years in the league.
Couple an Auburn victory over Georgia with a South Carolina victory over Florida, and the Gamecocks only need Missouri to lose one of its remaining SEC games against Ole Miss or Texas A&M to claim the title.
Anyone who finds that scenario confusing must have just checked in after a long sabbatical to Peru, because in a long, confusing SEC season, this is the most clarity the SEC East has yet to offer.
It all began with most of the experts predicting a vigorous battle between Georgia, South Carolina and Florida for the SEC East title, with Georgia getting the tentative nod in most polls to win its third consecutive title.
That prediction seemed confirmed when Georgia outscored the Gamecocks 41-30 on Sept. 7 in Athens, Ga., although the Bulldogs' barking wasn't quite as loud since they were coming off of a distasteful loss to Clemson of the ACC the previous week.
Meanwhile, Missouri was quietly beating the starch out of a succession of pre-conference patsies that included Murray State, Toledo, Indiana and Arkansas State and getting no recognition for doing it.
A 51-28 victory at Vanderbilt barely raised an eyebrow around the SEC.
Then the Tigers stormed between the hedges and put a 41-26 whipping on Georgia. It was an injury-riddled Georgia team to be sure, but at that point Missouri was viewed in a completely different light from the team that was picked to finish sixth in the SEC East.
Missouri followed that with a 36-17 victory against another injury-riddled team in Florida, and all of a sudden, the Tigers were unbeaten at 7-0, ranked No. 5 and in the driver's seat.
The Tigers remain in the drivers' seat even though they lost their starting quarterback and even though the Gamecocks took some air out of the tires with a 27-24 victory at Missouri the following week.
Apparently, SEC fans, particularly those in Georgia and South Carolina, steadfastly refuse to believe Missouri is in control.
Gamecock fans will particularly like their chances if kickoff rolls around Saturday night with toilet paper streaming from Toomer's Corner and Auburn fans shouting "War Eagle."
Stir in a struggling Florida team that has lost four consecutive games, and a sell-out crowd at Williams-Brice that has had all day to get itself in the proper mood.
A South Carolina team that has so often had to wait till next year may only have to wait till next week.
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