South Carolina Gamecocks @ Florida Gators
7:15 PM ET, Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, Gainesville, Florida
Laying the scene
Florida began the season a top five team. Three straight midseason losses and they're an unranked team. They've managed to climb their way back into the rankings, coming in this week at #22 in the latest BCS rankings, one spot ahead of their opponent.
South Carolina was not a top five team to begin the season, but they started a strong 3-0 before dropping the Auburn game in the fourth week. They pulled off a major upset the week later, however, downing top-ranked Alabama 35-21 before dropping the next game to Kentucky.
The Gamecocks have been largely up and down this season, while Florida seems poised to make a run at what seemed like an improbable SEC Championship just a few weeks ago. Don't count out a Gamecocks team eager to put to rest the notion that they're a good team that's just not good enough, however. With the exception of South Carolina's win over the Tide, both teams have struggled to beat the better teams in the SEC, but in the relatively weaker SEC East Division, one of these two teams will get their shot at the SEC Championship.
What South Carolina has to do to win
Start strong. With Florida struggling this season to get going early, setting the tone to force the Gators to play catch up will be important. Florida has scored first in three games this season—the blowouts over Kentucky and Vanderbilt and the overtime win over Georgia. If South Carolina can establish and control an early lead, they'll be well on their way to their first SEC Championship Game.
Of course, they'll also have to keep that pressure on all game, but running the ball effectively with Marcus Lattimore will allow the Gamecocks to control the clock and the game. Lattimore has scored a touchdown in every game he's played this season with the exception of last week's loss to Arkansas when he was held to just 30 yards on 11 carries as the Gamecocks attempted to make up a multiple touchdown deficit in the second half and Lattimore was slowed by a bruised knee.
The Gamecocks will look to Alshon Jeffery in the passing game to beat Janoris Jenkins, who will likely be assigned to keep him in check all night. While Jeffery's ability to get open and catch a few passes will be a key component of this offense's success against the Gators D, somebody else needs to step up as well to take some of the attention away from Jeffery. If Tori Gurley or one of the other receivers has a big night, the path to the SEC Championship Game will become that much clearer.
What Florida has to do to win
As much as we like to think that Florida is back on track after a midseason lull, keep in mind that it took them far too long to separate from Miami (OH), South Florida and Tennessee in wins in the first three weeks before finally starting strong against Kentucky. They then dropped three straight to Alabama, LSU and Mississippi State. The Gators haven't really been themselves all season and were taken to overtime in the Georgia game before handling Vanderbilt last weekend. This week is going to be a good indication of where Florida is as we move towards the end of the season. If this team gets in an early hole or has trouble creating separation, they could be in for a dogfight or worse.
Clicking early on offense will be the key to beating the Gamecocks, who will be playing with all the fire you'd expect from a team with its first SEC Championship Game appearance in its sights and first conference championship since it won the ACC in 1969 on the radar. All three Gators quarterbacks should be used in this one with John Brantley more of the pure passer type, Jordan Reed a mix of a pass and run quarterback and Trey Burton the option-type quarterback who's been quite effective this season.
Defensively, the Gators will look to make Garcia look anywhere but to Alshon Jeffery, who Janoris Jenkins will look to shut down early. Stopping Lattimore is another obvious focus of this Gators defense, who will key in on Lattimore in the running game to force Garcia to beat them through the air. Jenkins' ability to take Jeffery out of the equation becomes all the more important as the Gators focus on keeping the running game in check. If they do that, the Gators are on their way to yet another SEC Championship Game.
Florida. The Gators take this one and make it three straight SEC Championship Game appearances. Just when most of us thought the Gators' chances of appearing in a BCS bowl game went the way of that last second missed field goal against Mississippi State, it's entirely possible that we'll see Florida in yet another BCS bowl. - Danny Hobrock
Danny is a sports journalist primarily covering college football and professional baseball. His work for Xtra Point Football has garnered national attention and is critically acclaimed. Danny is the former editor of a political and current events website and the editor of our college football content.
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