Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A Dialogue Between My Head And My Heart: Can South Carolina Still Win The SEC East?

With their 44-28 loss to the Arkansas Razorbacks on November 5, 2011, the South Carolina Gamecocks fell to 7-2 overall and 5-2 in the Southeastern Conference (SEC) with three games still to play. For the garnet and black faithful, a seven win season in years past would be considered a success. After winning their first SEC East division title in 2010, anything short of a conference title game appearance or double digit wins is now a disappointment.

Heading into the 2011 college football season, South Carolina was the heavy favorite to repeat as SEC East champs again. But after a stunning conference loss to Auburn and a heartbreaker to Arkansas, the Gamecocks now find themselves half a game behind the surging Georgia Bulldogs (5-1 in the SEC), a team that started 0-2 and many left for dead.

But there is a caveat. Georgia's lone conference loss came against South Carolina, and a tie atop the SEC East would give South Carolina the edge by virtue of winning the head-to-head meeting. South Carolina has one more conference game left, a home game against Florida on November 12. Georgia still has to play Auburn at home on November 12 and Kentucky at home on November 19. A Gamecock win and a Bulldog loss in conference play would clinch the SEC East crown for South Carolina two years running.

Can it happen? Better yet, should it happen? It's something I've debated between myself with no closure in sight...

HEAD: Here we go again.
HEART: What do you mean?
HEAD: It's that time of year where the South Carolina Gamecocks, America's bridesmaid but nobody's bride, forget how to play football and fail to finish on a winning note.
HEART: Were you in a coma last year? They beat Florida in The Swamp, won by six touchdowns and a field goal over Troy, and humbled Clemson on their turf!
HEAD: You must've passed on the SEC title game and the Chick-fil-A Bowl, then.
HEART: No, I didn't. I watched them fervently.
HEAD: Well, if you noticed, you'd see a team in over their head and too caught up in the moment.
HEART: You'd be awestruck too if you were playing in the two biggest games in program history.
HEAD: Excuses, excuses. Great teams find ways to win, no matter the circumstances. Face it, the Gamecocks are too inconsistent on both sides of the ball to be taken seriously for a BCS bid.
HEART: They've shown flashes of brilliance. What about the 54-3 thumping they put on Kentucky?
HEAD: That was a month ago against a school who can't wait until the men's basketball season tips off.
HEART: Well, the Gamecock defense held Vanderbilt to just 77 yards of total offense in a 21-3 victory.
HEAD: C'mon, man. That was an even longer time ago when Stephen Garcia was still with the team. And correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't he throw four interceptions in that game?
HEART: Alright, then, you leave me no choice. September 10, 2011. South Carolina goes on the road to take on arch rival Georgia and walks away with a hard fought victory that isn't decided until the last minute, proving they can come back from adversity in a hostile environment.
HEAD: Fine, I'll concede that point to you. But South Carolina's still got some work to do this weekend. And even then, it might not be enough.
HEART: Explain yourself.
HEAD: Well, for starters, the Gamecocks no longer control their own destiny anymore. If Georgia can beat Auburn and Kentucky, both of whom they host, the Bulldogs can practically walk to Atlanta for the SEC championship game.
HEART: You make it sound like Auburn belongs in the same class as Kentucky. I know I've said several bad things about Auburn in the past year or so, but they're no pushover. Whatever Gene Chizik used to spike their water has worked since he got there.
HEAD: Aren't you the same person who said this year's Auburn team was a shell of themselves from a year ago?
HEART: What I think you fail to realize is that any true college football fan's allegiance is to their team first, teams that beat their arch rival second, and teams that impact their own team's standing third. I know I'll be rooting for South Carolina, but I need Auburn's help, too. My vitriol is only skin deep.
HEAD: Says the diehard Gamecock fan who rooted for Clemson to beat Auburn earlier this year. Tsk, tsk.
HEART: My preferences change on a week to week basis. You should know that!
HEAD: But you broke a cardinal rule of yours, didn't you?
HEART: Few things are ever prim and proper in college football. This is one of them. But let's get back to Georgia. Where did they come from?
HEAD: Athens, which I believe is about 60 miles west of Atlanta.
HEART: Thanks, Rand McNally, but I'm talking about their getting back into the SEC championship picture.
HEAD: Oh, that, of course. Well, let's see. Georgia's won seven straight games since losing to dark horse title contender Boise State and South Carolina. They've beaten Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, and Florida in conference play. And they won their last game by 47 points.
HEART: That was against New Mexico State! I'm surprised they even have a football team!
HEAD: Me, too, but there's a pattern going on here. Since giving up 45 points to South Carolina back in Week 2, Georgia's given up less than half that amount all but once in their last seven games. Their defense is really starting to get dialed in now, and Aaron Murray is maturing into a premier quarterback. Georgia's getting hot when it matters most -- in November. South Carolina? Eh, not so much.
HEART: I know what you're gonna say about my Gamecocks...
HEAD: Hey, they're my Gamecocks, too! I just don't use possessive pronouns when referring to South Carolina because I DON'T PLAY FOR THEM! And neither do you!
HEART: Hear me out. Before you rudely interrupted me, I was gonna say how depleted South Carolina is on both sides of the ball...
HEAD: Again with this argument. I've said it before, and I'll say it again. Great teams find ways to win, no matter the circumstances. I don't care if half the starters have food poisoning, they will literally play their guts out and still come away victorious.
HEART: You don't understand! They're improving on the fly! The Gamecocks have started the second most freshmen in the SEC this year no thanks to some key injuries and departures.
HEAD: And your point is?
HEART: Ever since Connor Shaw took over following Stephen Garcia's dismissal and Marcus Lattimore tore an ACL in his left knee, the offense has had to play small ball to keep pace in these SEC games. But they're getting better. You can practically see the progress being made on the field.
HEAD: You're delusional. The one constant for South Carolina this year has been their defense. Even with that aerial assault Arkansas put on the Gamecocks last Saturday, South Carolina gives up an average of just 154 passing yards. That's third best in the nation. South Carolina also ranks in the top 10 in giving up the fewest total yards per game at 284.9, good for ninth nationwide.
HEART: How do the Gamecocks compare to the Florida Gators?
HEAD: Better, albeit by slight margins, in every major offensive and defensive category by team, with the exception of passing yards per game.
HEART: Like John Brantley's any better than Connor Shaw.
HEAD: Those anemic passing numbers for South Carolina also include the ones that dope head Stephen Garcia put up.
HEART: Hey, watch it. Garcia took the Gamecocks all the way to the SEC title game last year!
HEAD: On the legs of Marcus Lattimore. But guess what? Neither are with the team anymore this year, and they've gotta make do with who they have.
HEART: Okay, Poindexter. Do you still see South Carolina beating the Gators?
HEAD: There's no good reason why they shouldn't. Aside from being a wee bit better statistically, the Gamecocks have also won 70% of their home games at Williams-Brice Stadium since Steve Spurrier took over in 2005.
HEART: Has Florida even beaten anyone relevant this season?
HEAD: No, they haven't. Every one of the Gators' victories this year have come against teams with losing records. Three of those wins came against conference opponents with a combined 2-14 record in SEC play. Their other two wins were against Florida Atlantic and UAB, and both have a combined 1-16 record overall this year. I didn't know UAB had a football team!
HEART: Where is Florida Atlantic, by the way?
HEAD: Boca Raton, but let's get back on topic here. Why do you see South Carolina winning on Saturday?
HEART: Because if they don't, their chances of winning the SEC East are all but shot. They need this victory more than the Gators, especially after coming off that tough loss to Arkansas to conclude a grueling three game road trip. There's nothing like having the crowd backing up the home team. The Cockpit is gonna be loud and boisterous. It's like Joe Morrison once said, "If it ain't swayin', we ain't playin'." And I'd be hard pressed to find any one Gamecock who isn't excited about sending the Gators back to Florida with their tails in between their legs.
HEAD: Well, let's go a step further and say they win and Georgia loses to Auburn. If South Carolina holds on by the skin of their teeth to win the East, they don't stand a prayer's chance against the SEC West winner.
HEART: As long as South Carolina can stay within 39 points, I'll be a little bit happier this year.
HEAD: Tell me, what's the color of the sky in your world?
HEART: Garnet and black. Why do you ask?
HEAD: You don't really think that it's better to get steamrolled by, say, LSU than to not play in the title game at all, do you?
HEART: There's always a chance.
HEAD: I will drink your toilet water if the Gamecocks win the SEC.
HEART: Would that be before or after I take my celebratory urination?
HEAD: Preferably before.
HEART: I'll try to keep that in mind.
HEAD: But I wonder...
HEART: What?
HEAD: How crazy would it be if Arkansas and Georgia both meet in the SEC title game?
HEART: I'll drink your toilet water.
HEAD: Would that be before or after I have the three bean chili?
HEART: Don't even go there.

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