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South Carolina Gamecocks vs. Tennessee Volunteers Preview: Expect the Unexpected

Just because the game is no longer played right next to Halloween doesn't mean things can't still get strange

Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

South Carolina Gamecocks vs. Tennessee Volunteers, 12 p.m. ET, ESPN

One of the least remarked-upon disadvantages of the schedule shuffling prompted by SEC expansion is that it's knocked off some of the circadian rhythm of the season. This game, for example, was often played sometime around Halloween -- and that's sort of fitting.

Because strange or sometimes just downright ugly things happen when South Carolina and Tennessee play. The last round in Knoxville was a 14-3 South Carolina win that featured 504 yards of total offense and five turnovers between the two teams. Both of South Carolina's overtime games have been played in Knoxville, according to the school, with the one in 2007 featuring a bizarre series of events near the end of the game that are too intricate to discuss here. But here's an ironic moment: Tennessee won that game at least in part because of a penalty against the Vols that allowed them to rekick a crucial, late FG.

Back to the present. Last week destroyed my unified theory of South Carolina this season -- that the Gamecocks play only part of the game at full speed and generally let lesser teams fight their way back into the game. Put more succinctly, South Carolina plays down to the competition. That didn't happen in Fayetteville, of course, as the Gamecocks finally learned to step on the throat of an overwhelmed opponent. The question is whether that was a blip or the beginning of a trend.

I'm even less sure what to make of Tennessee. This is the same team that got eviscerated by Oregon and narrowly beat South Alabama, only to turn around and take injury-riddled Georgia to the brink. That "injury-riddled" part might be key; there were times against Missouri when the offense didn't look very good. But maybe Mizzou is good enough that it might Georgia look that bad, meaning that Tennessee's performance is less a fluke than a statement.

Weird things happen in Knoxville when South Carolina comes to play. They will happen again this week -- but the Gamecocks will escape.

South Carolina 28, Tennessee 25