Consolation in Columbia
Florida at South Carolina
SEC Game of the Week
November 4, 2007
By Bob Epling
Should we call this the Consolation Bowl?
Florida and South Carolina both need some consoling at this point, although the Gamecocks find themselves in more desperate straits.
Both teams had conference title aspirations to begin the season.
Both reached high national rankings mid-way through the season.
Now, Florida needs help in the division race, and South Carolina clings to fading bowl hopes.
Start with Florida.
Going into the Auburn game on September 22, the defending national champs were undefeated at 4-0, ranked in the top five in national polls, and only two weeks removed from a 59-20 pasting of chief SEC East rival Tennessee.
Sophomore sensation Tim Tebow was running and passing his way into Heisman contention, the Gators were a week away from a BCS-style showdown with LSU, and their opponent, Auburn, limped into the game at 2-2 only fourteen days after an embarrassing home loss to Mississippi State (the Tigers second loss in a row on the Plains).
Then, as quick as you can say Rod Bramblett, it was “See ya later Alligator.”
(Auburn radio man) Bramblett’s call of Wes Byrum’s last second field goal to beat the Gators was prophetic for the defending champs’ season.
Florida played valiantly the next week at LSU, but lost a 28-24 decision they probably should have won. A win over Kentucky righted the Gator ship briefly, but then the Georgia Bulldogs came into Jacksonville, celebrated scores like they actually wanted to be there, and danced over Florida 42-30.
Last week’s impressive 49-22 victory over a solid Vanderbilt team brings Florida into this game at 6-3, but still alive in the SEC East.
Next, to South Carolina.
Heading into the Vanderbilt game on October 20th, the Gamecocks were 6-1 (losing only at LSU), ranked #7 in national polls, and controlled their fate in the SEC East.
The Gamecocks have not won a game since.
Vanderbilt beat Steve Spurrier for the first time, completing shutting down the head ball coach’s offense in a 17-6 win in Columbia. The teams combined for less than 400 total yards.
The next game may have broken the team’s will.
After falling behind Tennessee 21-0 at Neyland Stadium, SC mounted a terrific comeback and took a 24-21 lead with less than two minutes to play. Tennessee missed a last second field-goal but had a false start, and Daniel Lincoln made good on his second chance to send the game to overtime, where another field goal won the game. Carolina outgained the Vols by nearly 200 yards (501-317) but still lost.
That game led into the 48-36 debacle at Arkansas Saturday night.
Carolina played like Darren McFadden’s agent, giving up a conference-record 321 yards rushing to D-Mac and sending him to New York for the Heisman ceremony.
At 6-4, on a three-game losing streak, Carolina now plays Florida and Clemson at home.
Five consecutive losses to end the season, in a league that may have eleven teams vying for bowl position, might keep the Gamecocks home for the holidays.
The last two games in this series have been outstanding.
Carolina whipped Florida 30-22 two years ago, Spurrier winning the first battle against his old school.
Last season, Florida blocked a field goal on the final play of the game to win 17-16 and keep national title hopes alive.
Florida will be playing to keep its SEC East hopes alive this week, and another division title is not out of reach.
The Gators need to beat SC, and wait to see if Tennessee loses to either Arkansas, Vanderbilt, or Kentucky, and whether Georgia loses to either Auburn or Kentucky.
South Carolina holds out bowl hopes. Florida holds out division title hopes.
Consolation prize goes to the Gators.
Game Ball: Florida