The "Game of the Century" seems so long ago now, doesn't it?
What has been one of the ugliest weeks in the history of sports has seen attention driven away from the field and toward the stomach-turning story at Penn State.
As close followers of college football, what many of us need at this point in time is a return to talking about what we fell in love with in the first place—the games.
In no way will that relieve the horror of the situation in (Not So) Happy Valley. No chance.
But it can provide a diversion, even if wins and losses seem a little less significant than maybe they did last Saturday night when Louisiana State and Alabama were duking it out.
With that asterisk applied, one of this weekend's biggest contests involves Florida visiting its former "Head Ball Coach," Steve Spurrier, and South Carolina.
Sure, the Gators are just 5-4, but please comment below if you think UF isn't better than some of the teams ranked in the most recent polls (Southern Mississippi? Cincinnati?).
The Gamecocks fell 44-28 last week at Arkansas, which is in the unfortunate position of possibly being one of the five or six best teams in the country, but just the third-best in the SEC West.
And now, if South Carolina (7-2 and 13th in the latest BCS poll) has any shot at playing LSU (most likely), Alabama or rematching Arkansas in the SEC Championship Game, it must beat Florida.
The Gamecocks also would need Georgia to lose to either Auburn or Kentucky, allowing Spurrier's bunch to flex its tiebreaker muscle (a 45-42 victory against UGa way back on Sept. 10) and reach Atlanta for the second straight season.
But, as ever-improving Vanderbilt found out last weekend, defeating the Gators won't be an easy task.
First off, tailback/special teams standout Chris Rainey and starting linebacker Jelani Jenkins will be back after missing the game against the Commodores with injuries. And quarterback John Brantley, who was knocked out of the Vandy game with an arm injury, also will play.
Likewise, South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw (concussion) is expected to play.
By the numbers, the teams match up well. Here is a breakdown of all three phases of the game based on statistics provided by the NCAA's official website.
According to the NCAA's official statistics, the Gamecocks rank ninth nationally in total defense, allowing 284.89 yards a game. Florida isn't far back, sitting 14th and giving up 306.11 ypg.
And think about this, while the Crimson Tide and Tigers didn't score much on one another, they have piled up points against just about everybody else this year. South Carolina has not faced either of those powerhouses, while UF took on both (in fairness, Florida has not met Arkansas, which is 23rd nationally in total offense with an average of 450.89 ypg).
South Carolina does have three future (most likely) early-round NFL draft picks on its defensive line (Melvin Ingram, Devin Taylor and Jadeveon Clowney), but the Gamecocks have just one more sack (17) than UF does.
One area South Carolina appears to have a clear advantage turnover differential, particularly in pass coverage.
Led by a veteran secondary that ranks second nationally to Alabama in pass efficiency defense (Florida is 21st) and includes one of the nation's best cornerbacks in Stephon Gilmore, as well as a do-it-all safety in Antonio Allen (a prep teammate of Brantley's at Ocala Trinity Catholic), the Gamecocks rank third nationally in interceptions with 17. Florida, meanwhile, checks in with five, tied for 95th overall.
That total for South Carolina is particularly impressive when you consider the Gamecocks haven't had the good fortune of playing against their own offense, which is tied for 109th nationally with 13 interceptions thrown.
South Carolina also has recovered 10 fumbles, compared to only three for Florida.
When it's time to bite down a little harder on the mouthpiece, UF has been better than South Carolina. The Gators rank seventh nationally in third-down conversion percentage defense, allowing opponents to be successful just 30.33-percent of the time, while the Gamecocks sit 37th (36.69-percent).
Backing that up, UF ranks 29th in fourth-down percentage defense, allowing a 41.18-percent success rate. And the Gators might want to go for it a few times, as South Carolina's opponents have been successful on fourth down 53.33 percent of the time, tied with Miami (Fla.) and Western Kentucky for 75th nationally.
Advantage: South Carolina
Neither team is going to scare anyone when it has the ball, but the Gamecocks' No. 81 rating nationally in offense (368.11 ypg) and the Gators' placement at 94th (345.78 ypg) is in great part a product of competing in the SEC, which is the home of three of the country's seven best defenses (No. 1 Alabama, No. 3 LSU and No. 7 Georgia). That's five of the top 14 if you throw in South Carolina and UF.
In a way, it isn't fair to compare the offenses of the Gators and Gamecocks because South Carolina did not have to play the Crimson Tide or Tigers. So, that will be taken into account at the end.
Looking at each team's passing game, one needs to do so with a few things in mind.
Florida was without starting quarterback John Brantley against LSU and Auburn and did not have him for a half against Alabama and a quarter against Vanderbilt. True freshmen Jacoby Brissett (114-of-25 for 179 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions) and Jeff Driskel (16-of-34 for 148 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions) had to step in with Brantley (94-of-160 for 1,360 yards with six touchdowns and three interceptions) sidelined.
Conversely, former Gamecocks' starting quarterback Stephen Garcia (61-of-118 for 844 yards with four touchdowns and nine interceptions) played in just five games this year and is no longer a part of the program. He was replaced by Shaw, who is 76-of-121 for 710 yards with six touchdowns and four interceptions.
In all, the Gators rank 92nd in passing offense with 189.33 yards-a-game, while South Carolina is 98th (179.78).
When Rainey, Jeff Demps and the Gamecocks' Marcus Lattimore were running wild early in the season, these two teams were among the nation's leaders in rushing.
However, Rainey and Demps have been slowed by injuries (as well as the defenses of Alabama and LSU), while Lattimore saw his season end against Mississippi State after accruing 818 yards and 10 touchdowns in about six-and-a-half games.
Brandon Wilds (51 carries for 233 yards) has done an admirable job filling in for Lattimore but has found the end zone just once.
Rainey (108 carries for 526 yards with two touchdowns) and Demps (70 carries for 494 yards with six touchdowns) are in a tight race for UF's rushing title.
The Gamecocks rank higher in team rushing nationally, as their 188.33 yards a game is 36th nationally while Florida's 156.44 average is merely 62nd. However, those numbers are skewed by Lattimore's totals and the fact that UF has faced the nation's top two rushing defenses (Alabama and LSU) while South Carolina has not.
When it comes time to put points on the board, the Gators score 86 percent of the time, tied for 36th nationally with Alabama. The Gamecocks have not been very good, converting just 75-percent of time time, putting them in a tie for 100th with Navy, San Diego State and Texas.
And finally, UF ranks 64th, allowing two sacks-a-game. That number is skewed by the Georgia game, where the Gators gave up six of their 18 sacks allowed this season. South Carolina is tied for 87th, an average of 2.44 sacks-against each week.
The advantages either way for defense and offense were slight. However, here is where the game could be won.
The Gators rank first nationally in field goals made with 19. Making good on a reputation Spurrier had at Florida (he doesn't particularly care for field goals), South Carolina has made just four three-pointers all season, putting it 111th.
Florida ranks 36th in net punting with a 38.08 average, while the Gamecocks are 66th (36.43).
Additionally, UF is 12th in kickoff return average (25.59) and South Carolina is 48th (22.46). The Gators rank 13th in punt return defense, allowing an average of 4.09 yards, while the Gamecocks are 47th (6.33).
Neither team is in the top 55 in punt return average nor kickoff return defense.
Of course, there are intangibles like Spurrier's coaching experience, South Carolina having the home field advantage and the fact that the Gamecocks are penalized around 18 yards fewer each game than UF.
Those also could be difference-makers.
Taking everything into account, I am going on a gut feeling.
Prediction: Florida 21, South Carolina 15
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