Several teams in the league have plenty to play for tomorrow. Florida, Alabama, and LSU are still in the national title race. Tennessee would get a huge boost by picking up a big win in Tuscaloosa. The second annual Houston Nutt Bowl is being played.
Those teams have a lot to play for. No program has as much as stake as South Carolina does.
The Gamecocks have had at least a 5-2 start to each of the last three seasons, but they finished with eight, six, and seven wins across them. In order to take a genuine step forward, they will need to do better this year and not collapse down the stretch.
South Carolina has Vanderbilt on Saturday, and it's a bad Vanderbilt team. They're back to being doormat Vandy after being decent for the past several seasons. But as good as the Commodores have been in the recent past, South Carolina has had more wins than them in each year. The boys from Columbia are definitely on track to do that again. However, each of the last two seasons, they've lost to Vanderbilt.
Another loss this weekend would be a big blow to the program. It would be an SOS signal: same old South Carolina. They've already lost their two big games—against a down Georgia team and last week against Alabama—and they still have three tough ones to go with Tennessee, Florida, and arch rival Clemson. Lose this weekend, and they're staring at the possibility of yet another 7-5 type season.
It would also mean grave things for the Steve Spurrier era in Columbia. It's now Year 5 for him, and in a season where the East division is clearly down, he has to make a move. Losing to Vanderbilt would all but seal his fate of not finishing ahead of Georgia for the fifth straight year. And besides, can you imagine Florida-era Spurrier losing once to Vandy, much less three in a row?
Regardless of what happens tomorrow, Alabama, Florida, and LSU have established themselves as SEC royalty. Tennessee will get back to the elite because it has too much name recognition, tradition, and resources not to. It's not inevitable that South Carolina will ever get up to that rarefied air as it's a program that has won 10 games once in its history and has never gone to a bowl in three consecutive years.
If the Gamecocks were ever to take a step forward, this would be the year. They've got a great defense. The offense has shown some flashes of brilliance. The East is a muddled mess. Now is their chance.
They lose it all if they lose to Vanderbilt.