COLUMBIA -- Perhaps it's better this way.
There's no pressure on either side to win Saturday's game for the sake of the SEC championship. Each team is just trying to win a game and get some confidence flowing, maybe improve their status enough for a high-level bowl game.
The usual Steve Spurrier-vs.-his-old-school angle isn't a hot topic anymore, according to the coach.
"The story line is over, really," Spurrier said Tuesday, previewing the Gamecocks' impending matchup with No. 17 Florida on Saturday. "(What's significant is) only that, hey, they won the national championship last year, they're the defending conference champ, it'd be neat to beat them if we could."
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The USC-Florida game two years ago was dominated by headlines of Spurrier vs. the school he played for and then coached to national prominence. Last year it was Spurrier returning to The Swamp beforehand and afterward, how close the Gamecocks came to knocking the Gators out of their national championship run.
This season, with each school realistically (not mathematically) out of the SEC title picture, Saturday's game is about which team can shed its current funk and improve enough to impress the bowl committee. The Gamecocks (6-4, 3-4 SEC) and Gators (6-3, 4-3) are bowl-eligible along with seven other SEC teams, and the conference only has eight bowl slots.
If Vanderbilt (5-4) and Mississippi State (5-4) do as expected and win one more game, that's 11 bowl-eligible teams and three at-large bids that will have to be divided. Somebody could get left holding the bag.
Which makes Saturday about salvaging pride and the season, not about revenge or playing one-upmanship.
"We haven't beat them much in the history of our school but really, what we need to concern ourselves with is our guys playing the best we can," Spurrier said.
"I have a lot of friends who go to the University of Florida, but that doesn't matter this week," agreed linebacker Cody Wells, a Florida native. "That really hasn't even crossed my mind. We just want to win so we can win."
It's been a disastrous three weeks for USC, which played Vanderbilt Oct. 20 with a 6-1 record, a No. 6 national ranking and a clear view of the SEC East title. Since then, the Gamecocks have dropped three straight, an embarassing offensive zero to Vandy, a hard-fought overtime loss at Tennessee and a defensive meltdown at Arkansas.
By numbers, the Gamecocks can still win the SEC East and advance to the championship game. But nobody is thinking of that going into the Florida game -- the thoughts are just to win, get some good feeling back before a bye week and then prepare for the rivalry match with Clemson.
"The season's not over," center Web Brown said. "We've got another game next week. The seniors recognize that. Still a lot of football left."
And hopefully USC will buckle down, win at least one of the final two and improve its standing enough where a bowl is not a possibility, but a definite. Spurrier stands to become the first coach in school history to lead three straight teams to a bowl game, but it's up to the Gamecocks to clinch the trip or leave it on a 6-6 bubble.
"A 6-6 team ... they went last year, didn't they?," Spurrier wondered. "Don't ask me about fairness in college football, now. That's another story."