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SPORTS LIBRARY, South Carolina, USC, football, helmet

It’s a cliché, sure, but that whole “what a difference a week makes” narrative is more than applicable to South Carolina’s trip to Steve Spurrier Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium Saturday. Actually, in this case, it's two weeks.

Two weeks ago, the Gators were the No. 9 team in the country and looked like a serious threat in the SEC East. Two weeks ago, the Gamecocks were reeling after letting a winnable game slip away against Texas A&M and were embroiled in a quarterback controversy no one saw coming.

Then the Gators got stoned by Georgia in Jacksonville and were dusted by Missouri at home. Yes, that Missouri. The same team that came into Gainesville with zero SEC wins and lost to the Gamecocks’ backup quarterback.

Meanwhile, the Gamecocks seem to be peaking in the stretch run. With Jake Bentley playing well enough to quell any potential concerns about the quarterback position, USC managed to gut out a win over an overmatched Tennessee team before beating Ole Miss and its high-powered offense 48-44 last weekend in Oxford.

Needless to say, this one looks much different than it did two weeks ago. It’s decidedly more winnable for the Gamecocks, and that’s without even mentioning rumors of locker room strife and three quarterbacks playing for the Gators come Saturday.

Three keys

  • Keep the safeties safe. The Gators aren’t Ole Miss when it comes to throwing the football, ranking 11th in the SEC in passing offense. But will USC have enough healthy bodies to slow down whatever passing attack the Gators can come up with? Jamyest Williams (shoulder) and Javon Charleston (foot) both underwent season-ending surgery this week. J.T. Ibe (knee) and Nick Harvey (concussion) won't play Saturday, leaving the Gamecocks with just four healthy options at the position. USC can’t afford another injury in the secondary in this one.
  • Stuff the run. Given the Gators' offensive issues in the passing game, expect Florida to try to pound it out against the Gamecocks, who rank 87th of 128 FCS teams in rush defense, allowing 182 yards per game. The Gators average 184 yards per game on the ground. That’s probably the more concerning match-up, despite South Carolina’s injury problems in the secondary.
  • More for Mon. The Gamecocks also have injury issues at running back with just two experienced sets of legs healthy for this one in Mon Denson and A.J. Turner. If Denson rolls up another 100-yard performance, you’d have to like USC’s chances.

Inside the numbers

The Gators have held steady as a 6-point favorite throughout the week. That’s the same margin Florida was favored over Missouri before the Tigers handed the Gators a two-touchdown, outright home loss. This one looks a lot like two teams trending in opposition directions, so there’s value in the Gamecocks with the points.

The pick: USC +6

Re-predicting the record

Suddenly, the Gamecocks are right on pace with 2017.

  • Projected wins: Chattanooga, Akron
  • Projected loss: Clemson
  • Tossup: Florida

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Brantley Strickland, formerly sports editor for The Times and Democrat, now works as an economic developer for Southern Carolina Regional Development Alliance. Reach him at strickland.brantley@gmail.com.

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