South Carolina - LSU Saturday Night Preview

SOUTH CAROLINA/LSU GO BACK INTO BATTLE ONE WEEK AFTER SEC SHOCKERS

Even in a sport where surprises have become the norm in recent years, last Saturday's SEC two-step featuring LSU-Florida and Georgia-South Carolina left many experts scratching their heads. Sure, it was possible that LSU could lose to Florida. But they weren't supposed to look so helpless. And, sure, it was possible South Carolina could beat Georgia as a small home favorite. South Carolina CRUSHED Georgia in a way that vaulted them up to a "controlling their own destiny" spot in the BCS race!

Did the media...the markets...and ALL OF US have the wrong SEC challenger to Alabama's throne? Is South Carolina really so good now that they can march to the SEC East title...take down Alabama in the SEC Championship game...and then play for the BCS crown?

Well, there's so much work left to be done that it's still a longshot. In fact, South Carolina is an underdog Saturday Night in Baton Rouge when they run into an LSU team that will have a huge chip on their shoulder after getting embarrassed in the Swamp last week. If they survive that, then a trip to Florida is up next Saturday for the Gamecocks. BRUTAL! It does get easier after that...but a season finale against rival Clemson could mess up a BCS run even if it doesn't count in the SEC standings.

First things first. South Carolina has to come out immediately and let people know whether or not they're for real. Let's see what our indicator stats say about Saturday's battle in Baton Rouge. 

SOUTH CAROLINA at LSU (8 p.m. on ESPN)
Las Vegas Spread: LSU by 2.5, total of 39

A few things here. LSU is generally given a lot of respect on this home field. The line is below the standard of three points, and even further below what LSU normally gets in home field value. The market is currently convinced that South Carolina is the better of these two teams. You didn't see any sort of passion from Vegas sharps for LSU at a cheap home price. The Tigers have struggled so much this season...Wise Guys don't want any part of them. They'll back SC if the line goes to three.

The total is below 40 as we write this up, which is extremely low for a college game. But, it's not really low for an SEC defensive struggle. You saw LSU and Alabama play two wrestling matches last year. South Carolina currently has a team in that mold both defensively and offensively. The market expects another battle of field goals...or at least a game where the winner's defense shuts down the loser's offense.

CURRENT AP POLL RANKINGS
S. Carolina: #3
LSU: #9

Given how long Steve Spurrier was out of the limelight in this sport, it's amazing that he's been able to get his team back into the top five of a national poll at a place like South Carolina. This isn't a team that's certain to get superstar high school talent from a prep hotbed. Spurrier takes what he can get, and has maintained a level of execution at a time when so many other programs are falling back. Maybe this group would have been top five last year, or a few years ago. Right now, the evidence suggests that they are. The SEC is the power conference of the nation. South Carolina humiliated Georgia last week in a way that could resonate for awhile. And, there's a chance that LSU is still living off prior greatness. This certainly isn't a top 25 offense caliber offense right now...or even top 50. LSU was second-best to Alabama last year in a way that created a honeymoon during an offensive transition. Remember that this could conceivably be #3 vs. #30 in terms of real 2012 football....or even #10 vs. #30...or #15 vs. #15. Things are far from settled in a sport that hides so much from eyeballs with easy first half schedules.

HEAD COACHES
S. Carolina: Steve Spurrier
LSU: Les Miles

These two are such known quantities that the market has probably correctly factored in their impact. Both are known to overstep what's prudent as they try to score. Both are known to get timid with quarterbacks they don't trust. Miles has the reputation of a riverboat gambler because he occasionally does aggressive things. Spurrier was more of a Vegas poker player for years who always played aggressively even when he didn't have the cards. There's certainly volatility in play here. The key to us is whether or not Spurrier can keep his team on an even keel after scoring such a big victory last week.

QUARTERBACKS
S. Carolina: Connor Shaw
LSU: Zach Mettenberg

Mettenberg's been a disaster. If he's replaced...he'll be replaced by a guy that the coaches think is even worse. You have to give the edge to South Carolina. But, it's a "managing the game and occasionally making a play" kind of edge rather than a "this guy's going to explode" kind of edge.

LAST WEEK'S BOXES

SOUTH CAROLINA 35, GEORGIA 7
Total Yardage: Georgia 224, South Carolina 392
Rushing Yards: Georgia 115, South Carolina 230
Passing Stats: Georgia 11-31-1-109, South Carolina 6-10-0-162
Turnovers: Georgia 1, South Carolina 0
Third Downs: Georgia 44%, South Carolina 42%
Vegas Line: South Carolina by 1, total of 55

You can see what we mean about Shaw. South Carolina only threw 10 passes last week even though they had plenty of margin for error as the game progressed. This was a DEFENSIVE win for the Gamecocks, who held Georgia to very low numbers while forcing 20 incomplete passes from a proven veteran quarterback. If SC maintains the same intensity this week, then LSU won't score more than 10 points. That's the big question. Can SC avoid coming out flat against a team that just got smacked in the mouth and didn't like it very much.

FLORIDA 14, LSU 6
Total Yardage: LSU 200, Florida 237
Rushing Yards: LSU 42, Florida 176
Passing Stats: LSU 11-25-1-158, Florida 8-12-0-61
Turnovers: LSU 3, Florida 2
Third Downs: LSU 8%, Florida 50%
Vegas Line: LSU by 1.5, total of 41

Spend some time absorbing everything that LSU was doing wrong here. They couldn't run. They couldn't throw. They turned the ball over. And, a third down conversion was a miracle. All day...quarter by quarter...as a favorite! Credit Florida's defense. But, remember that Florida's defense didn't look like that for 60 minutes against Texas A&M and Tennessee. There are some real problems here...problems that are going to matter if SC can maintain its intensity.

BEST EXPECTATION
We've laid it out pretty straight already. If South Carolina comes in flat, then their dreams for a BCS title will be taken care of right here. LSU will come out with passion, and probably a few wrinkles because there's no reason to stay conservative once you've already lost a conference game. But...if SC is still breathing fire, and LSU just isn't capable of moving vs. a real defense...then the wrong team is favored and the Gamecocks will grind out another physical victory.

JIM HURLEY has been working with his team of handicappers to find you the best plays on Saturday's card. We talked yesterday about Stanford-Notre Dame. Either that game or this one could show up as a major release or as part of a Saturday Night Parlay. But, there are so many big games today that it's impossible to say at press time what the final ticket is going to look like. You'll have to sign up for service to find out!

You can do that here at the website with your credit card. Or, call the office at 1-800-323-4453 to get on board.

Other games we're looking at Saturday include:
Texas vs. Oklahoma in Dallas
Louisville at Pittsburgh
Iowa at Michigan State
Wisconsin at Purdue
Alabama at Missouri
West Virginia at Texas Tech
USC at Washington

It's shaping up as the biggest Saturday of the whole 2012 season. Link up with JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK for all the BIG, JUICY WINNERS

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