When South Carolina and Mississippi State lock horns this Saturday, both will be looking to keep their positive momentum going after some early season setbacks. These two teams have the potential to be dominant, but things have not worked out for them so far.
South Carolina stubbed its toe against Auburn two weeks ago, but were able to find success last week against Kentucky with Connor Shaw as the starting quarterback. He had as many touchdown passes last week (four) as Stephen Garcia did in five games.
Mississippi State entered the season with high expectations after winning nine games in 2010. But they are just 3-3 this season, including an 0-3 record in the SEC. They have been inconsistent on offense and defense, and they have a lot of work to do if they want to get back to a bowl game this year.
Where: David Wade Stadium; Starkville, Miss.
When: Saturday, Oct. 15 at noon EDT
Watch: SEC Network, ESPN3.com
Listen: Gamecock Sports Network WKNT 107.5 FM, WBUV-FM 104.9 (Mississippi State)
Betting Line: South Carolina (-3.5)
Gamecocks' Injury Report
Corey Addison, S: Questionable (head injury)
Rokevious Watkins, T: Questionable (head injury)
Kyle Nunn, T: Questionable (back)
Kenny Miles, RB: Questionable (wrist)
Akeem Auguste, CB: Questionable (foot)
Jacob Baker, RB: Out (knee)
Bulldogs' Injury Report
Tobias Smith, OL: Out For Season (knee)
Key Storyline to Watch: Is Connor Shaw the Man to Lead the Gamecocks' Offense?
South Carolina fans have never liked Stephen Garcia, and his performance in the first five games of the season forced Steve Spurrier to bench him.
Shaw was given the keys to the car and looked very good in his first start of the season
But that was against Kentucky—arguably the worst team in the SEC.
The Bulldogs have not looked impressive this season, but they are significantly better than Kentucky. If Shaw has another good game, the Gamecocks' confidence will be as high as it has been at any point this season.
BCS/Top 25 Poll Implications
South Carolina has a great chance to win the SEC East this season. They did have a hiccup against Auburn, but they are still in control of the division.
Since the East is by far the weaker division of the SEC, South Carolina can afford another loss and still play for a conference title.
Mississippi State has no chance to win the SEC West this season. The team needs to right the ship soon if it wants to make a bowl game.
What They Are Saying
Mississippi State's struggles this season stem from inconsistent quarterback play by Chris Relf, but head coach Dan Mullen is confident things will turn around for he and the team:
"He knows we have some trust in him to make decisions and to get the ball to the people that he needs to get the ball to. Everybody on offense was frustrated (against UAB), especially in the first half, with how we played. We weren't playing with a lot of confidence."
Relf has been more of a problem than a solution for this team, but if things get bad in this game, Tyler Russell will get the call.
South Carolina Player To Watch: Connor Shaw, QB
The Gamecocks do not have a good defense, so their success (or failure) the rest of this season is going to come from the way they play on offense.
Marcus Lattimore is the star of the team, but to have success in the SEC you have to have a good quarterback.
Shaw had a strong debut last week, but now he is going up against a team with a solid defense. If he can prove that his performance against Kentucky wasn't a fluke, the Gamecocks will be on their way to another SEC title game.
Mississippi State Player to Watch: Chris Relf, QB
It might be boring to go with two quarterbacks as the "players to watch," but no one affects the game more than the man under center.
Plus, the fact that Relf is competing for his job means that he has to figure out what has gone wrong for him this season.
It appears Relf is playing on borrowed time, so he has to shine in this game if he wants to remain the starter for this team the rest of the season.
Key Matchup: QB Chris Relf vs. South Carolina Secondary
Mississippi State is scuffling on offense, thanks in large part to Chris Relf.
South Carolina's defense has struggled this season, though they have gotten better in the last three games.
If Mississippi State wants to get back into bowl contention, Relf has to step up and play like he did in 2010. He was not asked to do much last season, but he was effective in his role as a game manager.
This year, his yards and completion percentage are just about the same as last season, but his touchdowns have gone down and interceptions have gone up. If he wants to keep his job, Relf has to earn it with a solid showing against an improving South Carolina defense.
Prediction: South Carolina 34, Mississippi State 24