Important Stretch Ahead For Gamecocks

Five games into the 2006 season, South Carolina's record stands at 3-2 with no notable victories to date. Coming off a heartbreaking 24-17 defeat at the hands of the #2 ranked Auburn Tigers, the Gamecocks will face their most important stretch of the season over the next five weeks.

The Gamecocks can either rebound from last Thursday's loss knowing that they are able to compete with any team in the country, or they can let that loss define them for the remainder of the season.

The young Gamecock team, which features twenty-one freshmen and sophomores on the two deep, will take their act on the road this weekend to Kentucky, and they must be completely focused in order to leave Lexington with a victory against an improved Wildcat squad. A much needed bye week will then be followed by a road game at Vanderbilt, where the Commodores appear to be building on their momentum from the 2005 season. Both of these contests are winnable for the Gamecocks, but they must remain focused and bring their ‘A' game, as road games in the SEC are never a sure thing.

If the Gamecocks can stay healthy and gain some much needed momentum on their two game road stint, then they will return home primed to face tough conference foes Tennessee and Arkansas, both of whom the Gamecocks beat on the road last season. One key to being a successful program in the Southeastern Conference is protecting your home field. The Gamecocks were unable to do that in games against Georgia and Auburn, but the true mettle of this team will be tested when they play host to Tennessee and Arkansas.

How the Gamecocks fare over the next five weeks will ultimately define the 2006 season, much like a similar stretch defined the 2005 campaign. If the Gamecocks emerge 4-0 from that stretch, then there is a possibility that Coach Steve Spurrier will lead his team into the Swamp on November 11 with a shot to win the SEC-East title. If they go 3-1 in that stretch, then they will still have a lot to play for, as they will battle for bowl positioning in the final three games. However, if they only manage to win two or less games in that crucial stretch, then the 2006 season will, in all likelihood, end up being viewed as a disappointment.

This South Carolina squad proved last Thursday that they can play with anybody in America. It is now up to the coaches and the upperclassmen to ensure that this young team rebounds and regains focus for what still lies ahead. There is still a lot of football left to be played and many questions yet to be answered, but we will certainly learn a lot about these Gamecocks over the course of the next five weeks.

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