‘What ifs’ balance out for USC

South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier

The first question for Steve Spurrier on his radio show last week came from a fan in Mount Pleasant full of disgust about South Carolina’s 23-21 loss at Tennessee.

The Gamecocks’ head coach turned questioner.

“Would you say that if we won?” he shot back.

Spurrier went on: What if Vols freshman receiver Marquez North failed to make a spectacular 39-yard catch to set up the winning field goal?

Suddenly, Gamecock fans this week are happier than four old guys turned loose in Las Vegas.

But what if the Gamecocks lost at Missouri?

What if Missouri played something other than goofy man-to-man coverage when Connor Shaw hit Bruce Ellington on fourth-and-goal from the 15 in overtime?

This is the month we find out about football teams, where potential and reality collide. We remember November. “What ifs” meet to form bowl pairings.

It always starts with spin.

“If you’re a player here, why would you not be encouraged?,” Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel said this week, pointing out that the Tigers still control the SEC East. “You should be the most fired-up football player in America with the opportunity and options that we have in front of us. But we’ve got to take care of our business.”

The same with Pigskin Picks pickers:

Trap game potential, but Mississippi State just isn’t that good.

Sapakoff pick: USC, 31-14

Peper pick: USC, 24-14

Time to see if this is a brilliantly masked season of overachievement for a Tiger team lacking solid NFL prospects, or a gradual fade.

Sapakoff pick: Clemson, 31-17

Peper pick: Clemson, 31-10

The Citadel, 2-6, typically plays just well enough to lose by fewer than seven points — five times in six losses.

Sapakoff pick: Samford, 24-17

Peper pick: Samford, 27-17

The Bucs (8-1) need to get past the Blue Hose (3-4) to set up next week’s home showdown with Coastal Carolina (8-0).

Sapakoff pick: CSU, 28-17

Peper pick: CSU, 27-14

Tyler McDonald (Stratford High School) became S.C. State’s career receiving leader in last week’s 14-3 loss at Bethune-Cookman.

Sapakoff pick: S.C. State, 35-14

Peper pick: S.C. State, 17-9

The road team with 1-3 ACC record is favored over the home team with the 0-4 ACC record. What does it mean? Basketball season is upon us.

Sapakoff pick: North Carolina, 24-17

Peper pick: North Carolina, 30-26

Another chance for the Seminoles to state their case.

Sapakoff pick: Florida State, 45-14

Peper pick: Florida State, 34-17

In a soap opera backdrop pitting Gus Malzahn against Bret Bielema, the surprising Tigers must maintain momentum and the shredded Razorbacks must make a stand.

Sapakoff pick: Auburn, 38-21

Peper pick: Auburn, 24-14

Tennessee’s true freshman quarterback Josh Dobbs gets his first college start after burning his redshirt season in last week’s 45-10 loss at Alabama.

Sapakoff pick: Missouri, 21-17

Peper pick: Missouri, 30-12

Two months ago, the cocktail party in Jacksonville didn’t project as a desperate battle of unranked teams.

Sapakoff pick: Georgia, 28-21

Peper pick: Florida, 34-30

Last week: Gene Sapakoff 9-1, Warren Peper 9-1

Season: Peper 66-24, Sapakoff 64-26