Just like we all expected, the South Carolina Gamecocks are bowl eligible heading into their November 11 game against Florida and the Gators need to win out just to make it to a bowl game. Never take anything for granted in college football, well, except for Alabama being the best team in the country. Anyway, South Carolina wraps up SEC play for the season with Saturday’s game at Williams-Brice Stadium and they’ll do so as more than a touchdown favorite against Florida.
The Florida program is in a complete state of disarray at this point. The Gators fired Will Muschamp and hired Jim McElwain. Well, Muschamp is thriving at South Carolina with back-to-back bowl appearances and McElwain has been fired from his post in Gainesville. Interim head coach Randy Shannon will see this thing through until the end and then Florida will try again with another high-profile name in one of the country’s top CFB head coaching jobs. The Gators are 3-5 straight up and just 2-6 against the number. South Carolina is 6-3 straight up and something around 6-3 against the spread, depending on your closing numbers for Week 1 against NC State and the October 28 game against Vanderbilt.
What is the low point of the season for Florida? Is it getting beaten 42-7 in the rivalry game against Georgia or is it following that up with a 45-16 loss against a Missouri team that didn’t have a win in conference play up to that point? Jim McElwain’s job was to fix the offense. In some respects, he did, as the Gators have 5.4 yards per play this season, which is the best output they’ve had since 2011. It wasn’t easy with Antonio Callaway and Jordan Scarlett both suspended indefinitely for their roles in a credit card fraud scheme. Nor was it easy without a bona fide quarterback. The job seems to belong to Malik Zaire now. Zaire, the late transfer from Notre Dame, is just 25-of-42 on the year with a 0/1 TD/INT ratio. True freshman Malik Davis was having a good season with 6.7 yards per carry, but he was also lost for the season to add injury to insult. Wide receiver Tyrie Cleveland has been in and out of the lineup and so has Kadarius Toney. All in all, Florida has probably exceeded offensive expectations with the injuries and the suspensions, which might be favorable for the new coach.
Unfortunately, the Florida defense has dropped off in dramatic fashion. Randy Shannon took over as the defensive coordinator for Geoff Collins, who took the head coaching job at Temple. The Gators have allowed 5.9 yards per play, which is unfathomable with the personnel on this defense. Florida has allowed more than five yards per play once in basically the last 15 years. The Gators gave up 455 yards to Missouri last week and it sort of feels like the defense has quit on the season a little bit. You hate to accuse any athlete or program of that, but all of the off-the-field stuff has had a clear impact on what is going on between the lines.
Many have scoffed at the Gamecocks, who have some very misleading wins on Muschamp’s watch. The game against NC State fit that bill, as South Carolina was terribly outgained, but held on for a 35-28 win. The Gamecocks are 6-3 with just a +0.1 yards per play differential, so it stands to reason that this group has been a little fortunate. But, they have a tenacious and gutsy quarterback in Jake Bentley, who is cut from the Connor Shaw cloth, but with a little more arm talent. Bentley has completed 61.2 percent of his throws with a 14/6 TD/INT ratio, despite being without top wide receiver Deebo Samuel most of the year. Rico Dowdle was a bust, but sophomore transfer Ty’Son Williams has 4.9 yards per carry on his team-leading 71 attempts. Hayden Hurst is one of the country’s top tight ends. The Gamecocks just find ways to make plays and a lot of that has to do with Bentley and his resilience. This is far from an explosive offense.
The South Carolina defense has problems with the pass, but this is a group that plays with a very high level of effort and it seems to be a difference maker. None of the stats particularly jump off the page, though the Gamecocks are having their best season against the run since 2012 with just 3.9 yards per carry allowed. Opponents have averaged 5.8 yards per play on the season, but South Carolina has held those teams to just 5.4 yards per play. The Gamecocks win the turnover and field position battles with a quarterback that takes care of the ball and a defense that does just enough to get by. It is a hard team to invest in because it often feels like regression and variance are hiding right behind the corner, but they never show up.
College Football Free Pick: South Carolina Gamecocks -7.5
The Gamecocks are not a team equipped to blow many people out, and yet this line is over a touchdown against a more athletic Florida team. That says all you need to know about the state of the Gators right now. Florida hasn’t scored more than 17 points since September 30. Do the players even want two more weeks of practice and a spot in a bowl game that is beneath the program? Probably not. At this point, it most likely becomes about beating the rival to end the year and then finding out who the new coach is. Laying this type of number with South Carolina rarely goes well, but investing in Florida hasn’t this season either.