This is a game for the lead in the SEC East. As bizarre as it sounds to say it a week after South Carolina fell behind Vanderbilt 14-0 early and Missouri lost at home to Indiana, the team that wins this game will be in control of the division. The other other Tigers would be the sole team remaining undefeated in-conference, while South Carolina would be 3-1 in SEC play before anyone else in the East has even played three conference games.
For South Carolina, this game is another in a string of de facto elimination games. Because of the loss to Texas A&M, the Gamecocks still have to keep pace with Georgia despite the head-to-head win against the Dawgs. And losing to Missouri would essentially knock South Carolina three games back in the division. With a likely loss to Auburn and a game against Tennessee that looks scarier by the week, the Gamecocks can hardly afford to drop this one.
But Missouri is a little desperate as well. Last week's loss might not matter in the conference standings, but it did shatter Missouri's prestige and knock the Tigers clear out of the Top 25. Beat South Carolina, and it all seems like a bad dream or a fluke upset. Lose tonight, especially if the game gets out of hand, and it starts to look like the early wins were a mirage and the real Missouri is going to be hunting for six or seven wins in the regular season.
Not that putting games out of reach has been South Carolina's modus operandi this year. None of the three wins that the Gamecocks have this year against a relatively tough schedule has come by more than two touchdowns -- and that was the victory against Vanderbilt. South Carolina can probably outscore many if not most of the teams on its schedule, but its problem is going to be stopping teams. The Gamecocks defense ranks dead last in the SEC in yards allowed per play, at 6.8; the next-worst teams (Arkansas and Florida) allow 5.5 yard a pop. And Maty Mauk against the South Carolina pass defense could get particularly ugly.
Missouri has defensive issues of its own -- it's allowed 5.3 yards per play against what is likely a weaker schedule -- and will be facing South Carolina at home. Texas A&M notwithstanding, the Gamecocks still play their best football in their version of Columbia. It should be a tight and tense game for both sides, but South Carolina will emerge from another dogfight with an ever-more-tenuous lead in the SEC East.
Game time: 7 p.m. ET
Live stream: WatchESPN
Brandon's prediction: South Carolina 34, Missouri 31