College Sports

Despite doubters, USC in BCS race

COLUMBIA -- More than a few college football observers scoffed during the preseason when South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said the Gamecocks were gunning for a spot in the SEC championship.

But with the Gamecocks 6-1 and ranked No. 6 in the initial BCS standings, some of those doubters are wondering whether Spurrier set the bar too low.

"Nah," Spurrier said. "Most people thought we were silly for where we set the (preseason) goals, and we still can be silly. Who knows what's going to happen down the road? We're trying to play one at a time, trying to improve from week to week."

This is the highest the Gamecocks have been ranked in the BCS standings, which were this week. Unbeaten Ohio State is No. 1 followed by South Florida, Boston College, LSU and Oklahoma.

USC climbed as high as No. 14 in 2001 before beating Ohio State in the Outback Bowl for the second consecutive year.

USC last appeared in the BCS rankings in November 2005, when the Gamecocks were No. 23 following a 30-22 win against Florida.

The Gamecocks moved up four spots to No. 8 in the USA Today coaches poll and are sixth in the Harris poll of former players, coaches and media members. USC is sixth in The Associated Press rankings, which are not used in the BCS rankings.

The AP ranking is USC's best since the Gamecocks were undefeated and ranked No. 2 before losing to Navy 38-21 in November 1984.

The Gamecocks are one of seven SEC teams ranked in the top 21 in the BCS rankings and the AP poll. Five of those seven are from the SEC East.

"I guess all these teams are having pretty decent years," Spurrier said. "(Unranked) Vandy's capable of beating everyone. We just hope it isn't us this week.

"It's a good conference, a good division, even though it's a very tough division," he added. "You've got to rely on somebody beating somebody else, and probably some kind of 6-2 record will win the division -- maybe on both sides, nowadays."

USC, 3-1 in conference play, has a half-game lead on No. 8 Kentucky, No. 20 Tennessee and No. 21 Georgia, and holds a one-game edge on 14th-ranked Florida, which was idle this past weekend.

The Gamecocks, who have beaten Georgia and Kentucky, travel to Tennessee Oct. 27 and meet Florida Nov. 10. Kentucky, which shocked then-No. 1 LSU in three overtimes last week, has games remaining against Florida, Georgia and Tennessee.

Georgia faces Florida in Jacksonville, Fla., in two weeks before playing host to No. 18 Auburn Nov. 10. Florida gets Kentucky, Georgia and USC in a four-week stretch that begins Saturday in Lexington, Ky.

Whichever team emerges from that scrum will advance to the SEC championship game Dec. 1 in Atlanta against the West champion. Spurrier believes the East representative might have as many as three conference losses.

"It's all wait and see. All of us have our big games left," Spurrier said. "I think we played four conference games, have four left. Most teams have five left. So it's still all out there for whoever gets better this time of year. I'm hoping we can."

Before tackling the Orange Crush portion (Tennessee, Florida and Clemson with Arkansas between the Volunteers and Gators), USC first must deal with Vanderbilt (3-3, 1-3), which dropped a 20-17 decision to Georgia last week when Brandon Coutu booted a 37-yard field goal as time expired.

"Vanderbilt is a good team that plays almost everyone down to the wire. So we'll have our hands full," Spurrier said. "We'll try to win a game this week. That's all we need to worry about right now. We don't need to be worried about any goals down the road. We just need to concern ourselves with trying to play the best we can to beat Vandy."