C0LUMBIA – There’s a lot of math this time of year. As the college football season winds down in November, conference and divisional races heat up. The projections start flying at warp speed.
There is addition. There is subtraction. There are all sorts of calculations that usual border on the utterly mundane. Analyzing the hypotheticals in divisional races? Try banging your head against the wall for a solid 30 minutes. Both activities produce the same feeling, utter boredom mixed with a lot of pain.
For South Carolina, this projection is different.
The Gamecocks will reap the reward of surviving a cannibalistic SEC this season. You probably haven’t seen the following scenario yet. There are a lot of moving parts from here to there. But it revolves around two distinct likelihoods.
South Carolina – if it wins out – will either travel to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game, or New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl. Almost certainly one or the other. Probably not both.
Allow me to explain.
Behind Door No. 1:
There are three things you need to believe will happen if you expect South Carolina to play in the SEC Championship Game.
1. You need to expect South Carolina will win its final SEC game Nov. 16 against Florida.
2. You need to expect Georgia to lose at Auburn on Nov. 16. With a healthy Todd Gurley, the Bulldogs have a better chance of pulling off the upset. That said, Georgia had a healthy Gurley last week against Florida, and it narrowly escaped with a win against the depleted Gators.
3. You need to expect Missouri will lose at least one more game. The Tigers will have multiple opportunities. They travel to Ole Miss on Nov. 23, where LSU already lost this season. They will end their season with a home game against Texas A&M and reigning Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel.
If those three things happen, South Carolina will play in Atlanta for the SEC Championship. It will likely play against No. 1 Alabama, the two-time defending national champions. It will be a massive underdog. A loss would be the Gamecocks’ third, knocking them from BCS bowl contention – the same thing that happened to Georgia last season.
Which is why Door No. 2 is an attractive option:
There are six things you need to believe will happen if you expect South Carolina to play in the Sugar Bowl.
1. You need to expect South Carolina will win its final three games against Florida, Coastal Carolina and Clemson.
2. You need to expect Georgia will beat Auburn, Kentucky and Georgia Tech, get to the SEC Championship Game and lose in Atlanta.
3. You need to expect Auburn – after losing to Georgia – would lose to Alabama.
4. You need to expect Texas A&M and LSU will end the season with three losses. Here’s where the SEC’s cannibalistic nature enters the equation. Texas A&M ends its season with road games at LSU and Missouri. LSU plays at Alabama and home against the Aggies in its next two games. For both, an even split is probably the best-case scenario.
5. You need to expect the Sugar Bowl replaces its automatic SEC bid with a fellow SEC team. Since 2000, the Sugar Bowl has been held without an SEC team once. It was 2012. That season, Alabama and LSU played each other in the BCS Championship Game in New Orleans – so the Superdome still hosted two SEC teams.
6. You need to expect a two-loss South Carolina will be selected by the Sugar Bowl over a two-loss Missouri team. The Gamecocks beat the Tigers this season, and they have the more marquee player in Jadeveon Clowney, so it seems like a safe assumption.
Yes, the above scenario has a lot of moving parts. Stay with me here. If these six things happen, South Carolina would end its season 10-2. Auburn, LSU and Texas A&M would be 9-3. Georgia would be headed to the SEC Championship Game to play Alabama, where it would be unceremoniously crushed and knocked out of the BCS picture with its fourth loss.
There is still a lot of SEC football to be played. Things can change. But, of the above requisites, tell me what seems unlikely to you. Anything? Certainly nothing you’ve read is a stretch by any means.
So, there’s the question for South Carolina fans to consider in the season’s final month.
Would you prefer a trip to Atlanta to likely play Alabama? It would be a chance at redemption after losing to eventual national champion Auburn 56-17 in the 2010 SEC Championship Game. Yes, there would be a shot at a shocking upset, but probably not a good one.
Or would you prefer to see the Gamecocks make their first trip to a BCS Bowl in school history?
South Carolina is staring at a trip to Atlanta or New Orleans, so long as they win their final three games. Either way, Gamecocks fans are probably going to remember this season for a long time.