No. 12 South Carolina‘s hopes for an SEC championship seemed finished when the Gamecocks were upset 23-21 at Tennessee and then trailed undefeated Missouri 17-0 entering the fourth quarter on a cold, dreary night in Columbia “West.” But in came a hobbling Connor Shaw and the rest was history – a 17-point comeback and eventual 27-24 overtime win.
The victory still left South Carolina trailing the Tigers (5-1, 9-1) in the standings, which they still do. But since then, the Gamecocks (8-2, 6-2) have slowly climbed back into an SEC East race that seemed all but over several weeks ago.
South Carolina got some help Saturday with No. 6 Auburn‘s miracle tipped-ball touchdown for a 43-38 win over Georgia, which held the tiebreaker over the Gamecocks with a head-to-head win. The play meant so much to the Gamecocks’ SEC hopes that the game at Williams-Brice Stadium was paused so everyone could watch as the 124-foot tall video board showed the final, improbable moments from Jordan-Hare Stadium.
South Carolina then took care of its own business, wrapping up SEC play with a 19-14, come-from-behind win over Florida. ”Somehow or another, it worked out again,” Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier said after the narrow escape.
The coach was talking about his team’s gritty win over the Gators, but he might as well have been talking about the entire second half of the season, specifically the SEC East race. The Gamecocks are now safely in the clubhouse with a 6-2 league record, and you can’t help but ask: Even with two conference losses, does South Carolina have a better shot than one-loss Missouri to reach the SEC Championship Game?
But there’s no reason to think Missouri couldn’t lose either or both of these games. A single loss would see the Gamecocks go to Atlanta on the head-to-head tiebreaker, while two Missouri losses would give South Carolina the outright SEC East crown.
So which position would you rather be in at this juncture? Sitting safely in the clubhouse in need a little help? Or in control of your own destiny, but with two very tough games remaining and absolutely no margin for error?
Let’s say the Gamecocks do somehow reach the SEC title game, setting up the next question: which team would South Carolina rather play? The winner of the Alabama-Auburn game will represent the West. South Carolina, like any other team, would love the opportunity to knock of the No. 1 team in college football to win the SEC title.
Then again, the Gamecocks, especially the seniors who were around, would also savor the chance to avenge the 56-17 beatdown at the hands of Auburn in the 2010 conference title game. In any case, the Gamecocks can breathe a little easier knowing their work is done. Now they sit, watch and hope for more SEC carnage.