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South Carolina-Auburn: Are the Gamecocks a True SEC Contender?

LEXINGTON, KY - OCTOBER 11:  Kenny McKinley #11 of  the South Carolina Gamecocks runs with the ball against the Kentucky Widcats during the game at Commonwealth Stadium on October 11, 2008 in Lexington, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
DJ BatchlerCorrespondent ISeptember 22, 2010

This season is incredibly interesting for the South Carolina Gamecocks to say the very least. As has been previously stated, each game is the most important game of the season, with absolutely no exceptions.

South Carolina has been on the cusp few times before, and it hasn't usually ended well for the Gamecocks.

They were 1969 ACC Champions, and that has so far been the only football championship. Under Joe Morrison, the Gamecocks were undefeated in 1984 and ranked second in the country until a three-win Navy team crushed all hopes for a national championship.

This season, each SEC matchup is essentially a playoff game for South Carolina, even more than usual in the college and SEC landscapes. Southern Miss, Furman, and Troy are non-conference trap games, two of those hurdles being cleared already. Vanderbilt and Kentucky are SEC trap games and the final game against Clemson is a game in which anything can happen and records seemingly don't matter.

Some have said South Carolina is now a favorite to win the SEC East, and while that's a growing bandwagon, it is dangerous as well. Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee are all traditionally favored over the Gamecocks in those rivalries.

South Carolina may be a "favorite" pick for some, but even in the minds of those picking the Gamecocks, it will have to be seen to be believed.

Some are believers and others, including some with national notoriety, refuse to accept the Gamecocks as a true contender, this or any year. While it has been said this is the Gamecocks' best opportunity yet, or at least the best under Steve Spurrier, some have said it is South Carolina's only opportunity.

 

One thing though, is that nearly everybody has an opinion of the 2010 Gamecocks.

This weekend, the Gamecocks travel to the plains to play an Auburn team that many are viewing as a solid team on the verge of being great.

There is no doubt the result of that game, as well as the Alabama-Arkansas tilt Saturday, will be key factors in who plays in Atlanta for the SEC Championship. Those four teams, along with Florida are the teams many expect to be around at the end and rightfully so.

The matchups in Saturday's game are ones that will determine who is for real, and who has work to do.

Auburn's offensive strength matches the Gamecocks' defensive strength, not to mention the fact that Marcus Lattimore chose to attend South Carolina over Auburn adding fuel to the fire for Auburn fans, coaches, and maybe even players.

One major question is which Gamecock team will show up? The run-heavy team that defeated Georgia, or the one that ran and passed their way over Southern Miss and Furman? A 37-carry game for talented freshman Marcus Lattimore, or a 30-pass game from Junior quarterback Stephen Garcia?

 

Steve Spurrier has already stated that true freshman speedster Connor Shaw will see his first SEC action at quarterback; it just remains to be seen in what actual capacity. Passer, runner, or simply decoy, Shaw will serve a purpose. Don't be surprised to see corner and all-around football player Stephon Gilmore step onto the field with the offense.

If the Gamecocks are versatile enough to change the game plan, and execute it weekly to keep the opponent guessing, they may very well be relevant at the end of the season.

 

Auburn is better, at least by record, than a Georgia team missing A.J. Greene sorely, so the true barometer is a Thursday night in Jordan-Hare Stadium. That is, until a Saturday night two weeks later in Columbia against the currently top-ranked Crimson Tide. The Gamecocks must take it one week, and one game, at a time.

The Gamecocks are also playing with heavy hearts. Gamecock great, and Denver Bronco Kenny McKinley tragically took his own life Monday, September 20. Grief counselors have been made available for those who were close with McKinley, and his loss has touched everyone associated with South Carolina, from coaches to players to fans.

Kenny McKinley was a good person, and a great Gamecock. He will be truly missed.

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