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November 6, 2010

Championship Vision Remains

South Carolina knew the biggest game of its season -- and probably the biggest in program history -- was in one week. The Gamecocks said all of the right things leading up to Saturday's game hosting No. 17 Arkansas, and each of them seemed to believe it.

"Even the games that don't matter in the SEC race, we want to go out there and win just for ourselves," captain Patrick DiMarco said earlier this week. "We want to do stuff that's never been done here before at the University of South Carolina. Winning 10 or 11 games, that's stuff that is huge here and would definitely build the program up."

As Saturday devolved into a listless, mistake-filled rout to the Razorbacks and the anger began to vent, though, there were actually several deep breaths among the more intense fanatics. No matter what USC's players previously said, or what fans wanted to see, it did not change the situation.

This game did not matter.

The Gamecocks had to beat Florida next week to win the SEC East championship before Saturday, and they still do after Saturday. What they lost were a couple of baubles that they cherished, but won't get them any closer toward a championship -- a perfect mark at home, and probably a spot in the Top 25.

In the parlance, big deal. Win next week, and that's going to be something remembered for a lot longer than a silly 7-0 record for one home season.

"Everybody knows that it didn't really mean a whole lot," quarterback Stephen Garcia said. "Maybe it's a good thing this happened."

Yes, the Gamecocks (6-3, 4-3 SEC) know they played lousy on Saturday. The defense continued a season-long malaise of letting the opposing quarterback do whatever he wants to, and when Saturday's opposing quarterback will be very well-paid and playing on Sundays next year, it was going to be a rough night. It became so bad that when asked what the turning point of the game was, defensive head Ellis Johnson grumbled, "Kickoff."

The offense was again hit-and-miss, continuing its trend. Since halftime at Kentucky, the Gamecocks' attack has sputtered and sparked, its mistakes often covered by the jaw-dropping talents of Alshon Jeffery and Marcus Lattimore. Just like at the Bluegrass, Lattimore went out and the offense never recovered, although there were a few more things to blame it on this time.

Still, the Gamecocks were not hurt. They play Florida next week needing one win for the kind of glory USC has sought for 19 seasons. And it doesn't matter how they got there, it just matters that they are there.

And they are there.

"It doesn't really matter what each team had done up to the game next week," Steve Spurrier said, and he was absolutely right. USC knows it needs to severely improve, but at least it has a chance to do so, which hasn't been the case in years past.

There will be no motivation needed. There will be no false confidence after a horrible loss at home. There will be just one game, 60 minutes, on a field that Spurrier used to own to decide the championship of the division, and a trip to Atlanta for the winner.

"It was just a minor setback," declared Akeem Auguste. "I feel that we're a team that's going to fight. I'm ready and so are my guys."

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