Kentucky-South Carolina: Battle for the SEC East?
Kentucky is well on their way to another losing season. Sure, last year, they went 8-5 and won a bowl game, but come on—the SEC is too tough for them.
Plus, they just got their tails handed to them by Louisville. This team has a decent quarterback who can't win games due to their awful defense.
South Carolina has lost to Georgia—again—and Blake Mitchell's constant lack of discipline has the team completely distracted. They look like a team that will win games they should and lose games they shouldn't. Injuries have derailed the squad, and Spurrier will just have to wait until next year.
That's what we should be saying.
Now to the reality:
This game will be an early indication of how the SEC East could shake out. I feel like I need to wash my mouth out with soap for saying these two teams have a chance to challenge the Big Three (Georgia, Florida, Tennessee) in the division—but it goes much deeper than that.
Kentucky has beaten both Louisville and Arkansas (the latter was on the road) with a balanced offense led by the nation's best quarterback, Andre Woodson, and the SEC's third-leading rusher, Rafael Little.
South Carolina has won at Georgia—a huge monkey off Steve Spurrier's back. They haven't looked particularly pretty, or Spurrier-esque, but the new grind-it-out, win-with-defense style of play seems to be working—and the fans seem to be hopeful (an annual occurrence in Columbia).
These two teams have won in opposite ways—Carolina with defense, Kentucky with offense. But they have one key similarity: Time and time again, both of these teams have found ways to win.
And in so doing, they've proved that they belong among the SEC elite.
Now the two surprising programs meet in Columbia for a prime-time showdown that has to have ESPN higher-ups patting themselves on the back for calling this one in the preseason.
(For the record, nobody could have called this one in the preseason.)
Before we crown these two teams, though, let's remember that it's still early. Kentucky still has games against LSU, Tennessee, and Florida (all at home), as well as a road game against Georgia. USC still has matchups at Tennessee, at Arkansas, and at home against Florida.
In short, these two teams have a long way to go—but the fact that we're actually talking about #11 South Carolina and #8 Kentucky right now is amazing in itself.
Now, on to the game...
This is an interesting matchup, where something's gotta give. Kentucky's offense vs. USC's defense is certainly where the tides will turn.
Kentucky is ranked 28th nationally in passing offense; South Carolina, meanwhile, is first in the nation in pass defense. The Wildcats are fourth nationally in third-down offense; the Gamecocks rank fifth in third-down defense.
Steve Spurrier is 1-4 at home against ranked opponents—but he has beaten Kentucky 14 out of 14 times. His decision to bench Mitchell and start redshirt freshman Chris Smelley at quarterback seemed to pay off last week against Mississippi State—but Smelley will be feeling some intense heat this week, as Woodson and Little will put up plenty of points.
This game should be fun, with Spurrier trying to match Rich Brooks every step of the way. The Wildcats haven't been held under 40 points yet this season—don't count on this to be the week it happens.
Even playing at home, I just don't think South Carolina can score with Kentucky.
Final Score: Kentucky 41, South Carolina 37
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