The SEC East wasn’t really supposed to look like this.
Tennessee was the sexy pick. UGA was the safe pick. Missouri and South Carolina were supposed to be somewhere in the mix. And Florida … Who knew what to expect from Florida?
But it’s mid-November and the Gators have as many conference losses as the Gamecocks have conference wins –– one. Steve Spurrier is gone. Jim McElwain has very much arrived. And, put simply, Saturday’s tilt in Columbia, S.C. is beginning to look a lot different than most people thought it would before the season or, for that matter, before November.
South Carolina, of course, was dismal under Spurrier early in the season, going 2-4 without a conference win. But since the Head Ball Coach’s sudden resignation in October, it’s hard not to notice the renewed sense of inspiration in Columbia under the leadership of interim coach Shawn Elliott.
The Gamecocks are 1-2 under Elliott, losing a pair of road games to Texas A&M and Tennessee by a combined 10 points while beating Vanderbilt in his debut as a head coach. Highly-touted junior wideout Pharoh Cooper has continued to put up solid numbers, reeling in seven catches for 160 yards in Elliott’s first game with the reins and catching a game-tying touchdown from quarterback Perry Orth late in the third quarter of South Carolina’s 27-24 loss to Tennessee.
Senior tailback Brandon Wilds has also played a key role in the Gamecocks’ recent uptick, running for over 100 yards against both Vanderbilt and Texas A&M, whom he scored twice against in a 35-28 loss last month.
The Gators, meanwhile, are coming off an uninspiring performance against Vanderbilt in Gainesville, Fla. McElwain’s team prevailed 9-7, rushing for fewer than 100 yards for just the second time of the season and turning the ball over four times in the narrow victory.
The Gators’ leading rusher in the win, Kelvin Taylor, managed just 47 yards on 17 carries and quarterback Treon Harris threw an interception late in the first half while in Vanderbilt territory. And it was the Harris pick that set up the Commodores’ lone score of the game — a 74-yard run from Vanderbilt tailback Ralph Webb.
Florida’s win ultimately had a negative impact on its place in the College Football Playoff rankings. The committee dropped the Gators from 10th to 11th.
Yet, with an already-punched ticket to the SEC championship and an in-state bout with No. 16 Florida State later this month, the Gators have an opportunity to really climb the ladder in the Playoff rankings. They just have to get past Elliott’s upward-trending Gamecocks first.