How the Gamecocks could win the SEC East

Does South Carolina still have a chance to win the division?

It’s hard to believe we’re a third of a way through the 2015 regular season, isn’t it? There have already been some pretty big shakeups throughout the conference and the nation alike in the first four weeks of this year. Top- 10 constants such as Alabama and Oregon find themselves on the outside looking in, while teams such as Utah and Ole Miss look like serious contenders for the second ever college football playoffs.

Though things are becoming clearer in the race for the SEC East division crown, there is still a lot to be determined in the coming months. 

Currently, the Eastern division looks like this, with overall record in parentheses:

- Georgia, 2-0 (4-0)
- Florida, 2-0 (4-0)
- Kentucky, 2-1 (3-1)
- Missouri, 0-1 (3-1)
- Tennessee, 0-1 (2-2)
- South Carolina, 0-2 (2-2)
- Vanderbilt, 0-2 (1-3)

The biggest surprises thus far are clearly the Gators and Wildcats sitting at No. 2 and 3 in the standings. 

With a bit of magic and Butch Jones’ knack for blowing any game that isn’t against South Carolina, the Gators look like a formidable challenge to Georgia’s quest for another SEC championship game appearance.

Kentucky, on the other hand, is doing all it can to separate itself from its miserable football past. After winning their first road game in years earlier this season, the Wildcats remain the only team in the East with a victory over a top-25 team after their win last weekend vs Missouri.

South Carolina certainly has done itself no favors sitting at second-to-last of the standings this far into the season, and in most seasons they’d pretty much be out of the race altogether. But in a college football year that looks to be about as wild and weak as the infamous 2007 season, anything is possible.

While the Gamecocks certainly don’t hold their own destiny in their hands, there seems to be a small chance as of right now that with some lucky breaks and bounces, South Carolina could find its way back towards the top of the division standings in the coming weeks.

Here is what would have to happen in order for the Gamecocks to remain in the East race…

First and foremost, the Gamecocks absolutely must win out to give themselves a chance. With teams such as LSU and Texas A&M left on the schedule, things certainly don’t look great in that department.

The good news is that as good as LSU and Leonard Fournette has looked this season, the Gamecocks don’t have to travel to Death Valley to face the Tigers. Just last weekend Syracuse gave LSU all it wanted with a walk-on QB at the helm, so it’s not impossible to believe that young Lorenzo Nunez could give the Gamecocks a chance to hang around against the Tigers if the team shows up.

Traveling to Texas  A&M the next biggest challenge for this young Gamecock team, and with the way QB Kyle Allen and that Aggie offense has looked early on it’s no question that the best chances for South Carolina will be to win a tough one in a shoot-out.

As good as the A&M offense has been, averaging 42 points per game, the defense has been somewhat of a liability. If Nunez can get this offense figured out and clicking by the time Halloween rolls around, South Carolina may just be able to make things interesting in College Station.

So let’s say the Gamecocks stun the nation and pull out wins against both the Tigers and Aggies. Not only that, but they somehow manage to scrap their way to wins on the road against Missouri and Tennessee, while protecting home-field against Florida and Vanderbilt to put up an impressive SEC record of 6-2. 

Would it be enough to give the Gamecocks a chance at their second SEC East title in program history?

I believe so.

Should South Carolina handle its business for the rest of conference play, the Gamecocks would need both Georgia and Kentucky to finish their seasons with three SEC losses. 

With the Wildcats already sitting with one loss and trips to Starkville and Athens looming, it’s not hard to imagine Kentucky dropping at least two more SEC games. 

The tricky part is finding three losses on Georgia’s schedule. Asides from their huge top-15 matchup with Alabama in Athens this Saturday, the Bulldogs have a pretty favorable remaining schedule. Georgia has thus far proven they are head and shoulders the best team in the division and possibly the conference, but the Bulldogs have made a habit of squandering opportunities and potential.  

This weekend is pretty much a make-or-break weekend for the Gamecocks, because without a loss to the Crimson Tide, I’m not sure I can see Georgia losing more than one other conference game.

Following Bama, the best chances for a Georgia loss are a couple of long-shots in Tennessee and Florida. The Vols have pushed Georgia to the brink in the past couple of years, losing by a field goal each of the past two seasons. 

It feels like Tennessee is due a big win against a big-name opponent and my gut tells me this could be the one. I especially like the Volunteers chances with the game coming in Knoxville.

The final remaining challenge on Georgia’s SEC schedule will be their yearly showdown in Jacksonville against the rival Gators. No matter the talent on each side it’s never easy to predict how things will go in a rivalry game as intense as this one, and Florida seems to have a defense capable of giving Greyson Lambert and the Georgia offense fits.

Clearly the Gamecocks have quite a long road ahead of them in order to return to the top of the division standings. It will require a lot of growth from this young team and a lot of lucky breaks, but from what I’ve seen so far out of this college football season it’s not completely out of the question.