Bentley

South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley has directed a lethal offense the last four games. Travis Bell/Sideline Carolina

COLUMBIA — It’s so strange to be playing this weekend.

The week after Clemson is a time to relax, wait for the bowl announcement, watch some basketball and start attacking exams (if you’re a player) or the honey-do list you’ve ignored since August (if you’re a writer). Sure, there was that one exception in 2010 when South Carolina went to Atlanta to help Auburn achieve an undefeated season, but otherwise, this is the first time since independent-era 1990 that the Gamecocks have played a regular-season opponent after the Tigers.

Can’t help hurricanes cancelling games and while USC probably could have avoided playing Akron had it known then what it knows now (the Gamecocks would be bowl-eligible, and due to the bowl picture, it appears that no SEC team will be going to Shreveport or Birmingham), it’s a chance to get better, feel better, be better before Sunday’s bowl announcement.

Four keys for the Gamecocks when they play Akron at noon Saturday:

Light it up

The Gamecocks’ offense is the best it’s looked under Will Muschamp, and really even better than when the team was winning 11 games per year under Steve Spurrier.

Quarterback Jake Bentley has morphed into a secondary-shredding cyborg with his receivers zeroing in on the sliver of open space that they need to find his eyes, and even with his running backs nursing injuries, Bentley is orchestrating a point-scoring machine. With USC’s defense again spending half its time in the medical tent, the offense is going to have be as lethal as it has been.

It’s not comforting to see the defense give up yards, points and tackle opportunities, but as long as the Gamecocks are outscoring Akron, it’s not that big of a deal.

One-man gang

The Zips go as quarterback Kato Nelson goes. He’s thrown for 2,000 yards and rushed for 305, participating in 16 touchdowns.

USC is down to what seems like its 11th-string defense, so tapped out that running back A.J. Turner practiced in the secondary this week, but the defensive line will have enough bodies to get through the game. This is their chance to do what the entire defense hasn’t been able to do a lot of this year.

Tackle. Not hit, not jar, not trip. Two arms, two hands, get Nelson on the ground.

Look ahead

The Gamecocks need to remember what’s in front of them. Specifically, a lot of time with no football.

A break to rest and get the team as healthy as it can be before the bowl. A chance to go home (albeit briefly) for the holidays. Thinking about that will keep their minds off how rough a year it’s been, the paltry crowd that will attend the game (will Williams-Brice break 40,000?) and what’s expected to be a rainy, gloomy, nasty day.

The must stay on their feet for 60 minutes and then spend the next two weeks off of them.

Remember the day

Many people have said the Gamecocks will never win an SEC championship. There are just too many other great teams in the league and it is USC, after all … 125 years, one conference title.

But USC did get to the SEC Championship Game in 2010. For what it’s worth, the players still believed even at 3-3 that something could happen to get there this year. That game will kick off a few minutes after USC’s game ends Saturday.

The only similarity is that USC plays the same day as the SEC Championship. Next year, as in every next year, the Gamecocks can focus on merging a game today with the only SEC game played today.

Prediction

South Carolina 38, Akron 17

Follow David Cloninger on Twitter @DCPandC.