Sapakoff: Gamecocks’ magic at Missouri might be Sugar Bowl sweet
COLUMBIA, Mo. — The Shaw, shank and redemption. All hard.
The Big Easy is possible.
South Carolina senior quarterback Connor Shaw’s great Faurot Field rescue episode Saturday night and Missouri kicker Andrew Baggett’s 24-yard field goal try that bounced off the left upright in double-overtime gave the Gamecocks an instant classic 27-24 victory.
So many clutch plays:
Sharrod Golightly’s tackle of running back Henry Josey for a 4-yard loss to force Missouri to punt and give the Gamecocks one more shot with 3:08 left in regulation.
Shaw’s fourth-and-15 touchdown pass to Bruce Ellington in the first overtime.
Elliott Fry’s 40-yard field goal in the second OT.
“I didn’t lose hope at all,” said Gamecocks running back Mike Davis, who lost two fumbles in the first half.
Sure, had it all the way.
Making magic from a 17-0 fourth-quarter deficit and messing up Missouri’s SEC East title plans puts South Carolina in a good spot in the standings. The Gamecocks (6-2, 4-2 in the SEC) remain behind Missouri (7-1, 3-1) and Georgia (4-3, 3-2 with a win over South Carolina) but have a much easier remaining SEC schedule (home games against Mississippi State and Florida).
Which means the Gamecocks have a real shot at a Sugar Bowl bid.
No. 14 South Carolina has never played in such a prestigious bowl.
Of course, the Gamecocks can earn the bid conventionally by reaching the SEC Championship Game and knocking off No. 1 Alabama.
Path to New Orleans
But this is the most logical Gamecock path to New Orleans:
Alabama runs the table and wins the SEC Championship Game, vaulting into the BCS Championship Game.
The Gamecocks keep winning until meeting Alabama in the Georgia Dome.
No. 8 Auburn, No. 10 Missouri, No. 11 LSU and No. 12 Texas A&M lose enough to make South Carolina — with Jadeveon Clowney’s marquee value — the most attractive SEC at-large option for the Sugar Bowl (a conference can have only two teams in BCS bowls).
Unranked Georgia loses one more SEC game (to Florida in Jacksonville, at Auburn or home against Kentucky).
The key games
“We still have a lot to play for,” Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel pointed out.
Yes, but most of the pointspreads project as favorable for South Carolina on the SEC schedule grid.
LSU will be an underdog at Alabama on Nov. 9.
Texas A&M must play at LSU on Nov. 23 and at Missouri on Nov. 30.
Auburn has four SEC games left: at Arkansas and Tennessee, home against Georgia and Alabama.
Missouri still has four SEC games: Tennessee, at Kentucky, at Ole Miss, and Texas A&M.
A lot of football remaining, for sure. And don’t forget Clemson.
If Florida State gets squeezed out of the BCS National Championship Game and winds up as the ACC half of the Orange Bowl, an 11-1 Clemson also is a prime Sugar Bowl candidate.
Imagine that, Gamecocks vs. Tigers on Nov. 30 for a trip to New Orleans.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff.