33 points. A game that was supposed to be decided by 3 1/2 points was decided by nearly 10 times that number. Saturday’s game started bad and went down hill from there. Every time South Carolina stopped the bleeding and seemed to slow the game down, another turnover made the comeback more and more unlikely. The first drive of the third quarter finally closed the door on any possibility of a win. The only question to be answered was how bad was it going to get. Bad.
The only good thing about the Florida game is that it is over. Some other things are over too. USC’s SEC East winning streak ended after 12 games. Appropriately, it was the Florida Gators who ended it. Appropriate because they are the only school in the East to have had a longer streak in SEC East play, and they’ve had three of them. The Gamecocks are out of the hunt for a national title. They are all but mathematically eliminated from the SEC East race and thus the SEC.
The Georgia game was pointed to as a barometer this year. The Bulldogs were the favorite for the East, in part because of their ridiculously easy schedule. South Carolina didn’t just beat the Bulldogs two weeks ago; they destroyed them. They announced their candidacy for the national title and raised expectations high. Too high it would turn out.
Much of the disappointment in Gainesville can be traced to Williams-Brice Stadium two weeks ago. If South Carolina hadn’t dismantled Georgia so thoroughly, hopes of winning in Baton Rouge and Gainesville in back to back weeks would have been more guarded. It is clear now that this team isn’t as good as it seemed after Georgia, but it should be just as clear they are not as bad as it seemed in the second half in Gainesville.
Teams don’t play at the same level every game against every opponent in every situation. They have a high end, and they have a low end. This South Carolina team’s high end is among the elite teams in the country. Unfortunately its low end is only a Top 20 performance. Building a team and a program into the point where its high end is elite is a monumental task. It is a step that has already been taken in Columbia. The next step is building on that high end and forming a team that doesn’t have a low, low end.
Many teams and programs are never able to take that second step. Many step on the precipice of elite without being able to avoid having those bad games, which when you think about it are the low end on their performance spectrum. Look around the country and pick out which teams have a low end performance possibility that is still elite. Alabama is an example, and Oregon is too. That’s about it. It’s rare company to be in, and it’s difficult to get there.
That doesn’t mean all is lost. Think back to before the Georgia game. One commentator said that if South Carolina could win two of the next three games they should be ranked number one. They would have proven themselves to be the best in the country. 2 out of 3. The schedule was so hard that you had to be the best team in the country to win 2 out of 3. That’s ridiculous. And, it was always, always unlikely. It is unlikely for almost every team in the country.
Playing the third straight Top 10 team in three weeks, on the road for a second week in a row in another hostile environment, isn’t a recipe for success. Expecting a win in that environment is expecting too much. I don’t think you can really draw any conclusions from the last two weeks other than the undeniable reality that South Carolina isn’t currently the best team in the country. I wish that wasn’t the case, but it is. That’s not the end of the world.
This team can’t afford to dwell on this game or Tennessee will come in and really make things bad. Once the turnovers mounted and the offense couldn’t get moving the Florida game was out of control. The convergence of sloppy play and bad luck created a forgettable Saturday. In fact, I’m not sure there’s much that can be inferred from the game. It was an anomaly. It was a bad time to play poorly, and it’s over. Moving on.