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October 13, 2012

Championship hopes bent, not broken



BATON ROUGE, La. - Beaten, bruised and bloody.

But not breathless.

South Carolina had every "potential" problem on its team turned into a flashing red light during Saturday's 23-21 loss at No. 9 LSU. Its vaunted defensive line was plowed under by an LSU offensive front that was missing three starters and was playing mix-and-match. The Gamecocks' preference of letting Marcus Lattimore and Connor Shaw set the offensive tone with their legs was held to a paltry 34 rushing yards. Shaw, as good as he has been for the past three weeks, picked a bad time for his first mistake in that span with an interception just after LSU had cut the game to one point.

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But as badly as USC played, and as fluidly as the Tigers wrote a primer on how to beat the Gamecocks, their championship vision is still very much alive. To use one of Steve Spurrier's favorite terms, they had a mulligan and used it.

They likely won't get another one.

"Well, basically, we got to beat Florida anyway, if we're going to have a chance to win the East," Spurrier pointed out. "If we'd have won tonight, we would have had to beat those guys."

USC, as it knew it would anyway, has to go to Gainesville next week and beat the No. 4 Gators. It also has to beat Tennessee the week after that and Arkansas the week after that.

The Gamecocks win their next three games, they're in Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game on Dec. 1. There are no two ways about it. USC will have beaten Georgia and beaten Florida, and both of those teams will have lost to USC and one of them will have another loss after they meet in Jacksonville on Oct. 27. But all the Gamecocks have to be concerned with is their held tiebreakers over the Bulldogs and Gators, which they will have.

"We got a big game in the East (Saturday)," Shaw said. "If we want to have a chance to get to Atlanta, we have to bounce back strong next week. Florida's in the East. We've got a big game on the road next week."

If USC stubs its toe again - not that Saturday's was such a situation, as it was a near-complete domination by LSU - then the other factors come into play. Georgia or Florida would have to lose again, USC would have to hope for help, etc.

Not to mention that it would be a death knell to USC's other championship hopes.

"You look at last year, there's a one-loss team in the national championship," Shaw pointed out. Alabama lost to LSU in the regular season before beating the Tigers in the game that mattered.

After Saturday's game, the Gamecocks didn't feel much like being told of that scenario, but it was still true. Spurrier and Shaw each mentioned it, as did defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward, who vowed to get back to the fundamentals of his scheme after missed tackles and an awful third-down conversion percentage (11-of-19) resulted in 406 yards.

They weren't discounting Florida, either, not by a long shot. Their struggles on the road this year, Florida's powerful running game and that it shut down an LSU offense last week, the same one that USC couldn't stop, is making for a long week in Columbia.

But the long week could have a very pleasant end.

Which is much different from a long rest-of-season wondering what might have been.



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