South Carolina Football: Who needs the Florida game most?

South Carolina football's Troy Williamson being covered by three defenders against Florida.Mandatory Credit: Photo by Paul Chapman-USA TODAY Sports(©) Copyright 2004 by Paul Chapman
South Carolina football's Troy Williamson being covered by three defenders against Florida.Mandatory Credit: Photo by Paul Chapman-USA TODAY Sports(©) Copyright 2004 by Paul Chapman /

The South Carolina football team received a more-than-welcome bye this week after a 2-3 start to the season, but it’s back to work this weekend at home against the Florida Gators. Both teams have experienced up-and-downs to start the season, and a win could set up a strong second half of the season for either team. While October in SEC country means every week is a must-win, one team needs this win more than the other.

One-time South Carolina football target Billy Napier is in his second year with Florida, while Shane Beamer is in the midst of his third at Carolina. Entering this week, however, Napier was seen as more of a hot seat candidate compared to Beamer, owing to both last year’s mediocre first year at Florida and Beamer’s late-season breakout against Tennessee and Clemson.

This year, Florida was embarrassed against Utah in their first game, though South Carolina didn’t look much better in a loss to UNC. Florida has since gone 4-1 in their past 5 games, with an impressive win over Tennessee and a not-so-impressive loss to Kentucky. South Carolina has gone 2-2 in their 4 games since Week 1, with a win over Mississippi State but a loss against Tennessee, the Gamecocks and Gators’ only transitive opponent so far.

A South Carolina win would move the Gamecocks back to .500 with a 3-3 record overall and 2-2 against SEC opponents, while the Gators would move to 4-3 with a 2-2 SEC record. A Gators win, however, would mean the Gamecocks would slide to 2-4 with a 1-3 SEC record, while the Gators move up in the standings with a 5-2 record and a 3-1 mark in conference.

Just as much as Florida wants to make a statement in Billy Napier’s second year, South Carolina football fans are pining for a momentum-building win to set up the second half of Shane Beamer’s year three. The spread for the game is -2 in favor of the Gamecocks, so Vegas sees the game as close to a coin flip. South Carolina’s recruiting for the 2024 cycle has stagnated in recent weeks, and they’re still sitting at 15 commits for the cycle overall. A win that inches the Gamecocks closer to bowl eligibility could pay dividends on the recruiting trail.

For Florida, though, a road win could show Billy Napier is finally able to win away from Gainesville, something he hasn’t quite shown yet. After all, he’s only won one road game in his tenure, and it was against Texas A&M in the middle of the Aggies’ flu outbreak. Getting that elusive second road win would build plenty of momentum for the Gators.

In terms of getting to six wins, a crucial milestone for either team at this point in their respective seasons. For South Carolina, getting to three wins before the 7th game of the year means they would have to beat just one of Missouri, Texas A&M, Kentucky, or Clemson in addition to Vanderbilt and Jacksonville State. A Florida win would mean just one more win is needed for the Gators to go bowling. Their remaining schedule includes Georgia, Arkansas, LSU, Missouri, and Florida State, a difficult slate. 4 of those 5 teams have been ranked at some point in the season.

Ultimately, however, this weekend is most important to Shane Beamer’s South Carolina football squad. The difference between 2-4 and 3-3 isn’t just more than the difference between 5-2 and 4-3, it’s possibly the difference between playing in December and getting a season cut short after the Clemson game. While a loss for Florida does mean a slip-up in the conference standings, it doesn’t serve to be the back-breaker that falling to 2-4 would mean for the Gamecocks.

It’s not fully a must-win for Carolina, but it’s about as close as a game could be without falling into that category. A win means immediate momentum heading into the most crucial stretch of the season. A loss means missing a bowl game suddenly turns into a likely scenario. For fans of the ‘Cocks, Saturday’s 60 minutes will be vital for the rest of the year.

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