Gridiron & Grits: Southern Fried Columnist

Ronda asks a tough question that many Gamecock fans have debated the last few years in this week's column. But she's upbeat: "I'm back from my trip to Columbia, S.C., with three things to show for it: a Gamecock victory over the Kentucky Wildcats, a great time with my college roommate and dearest friend of too many years to mention and -- well -- keep reading to find out about the third thing."

Who says women don't know football? Ronda Templeton's 'Gridiron & Grits' is a sports blog with a distinctly female — and Southern — flavor. She's a die-hard fan of the University of South Carolina Gamecocks who asks a tough question this week: Would you rather? Making the tough choices . . .

With the exception of the Florida-LSU game (which ended as expected but somehow wasn't very engrossing television), the SEC was like the wild, wild west in Week 6. We in the SEC like to beat each other up. Hey, why let the other conferences do it, when we can do such a great job ourselves? This week was no exception:

• Auburn, which had been sitting pretty at 5-0, was absolutely smoked by the Arkansas Razorbacks (44-23) and dropped out of the AP Top 25.

• Georgia, which started the season with such promise, was annihilated by the Tennessee Volunteers, 45-19.

• The Alabama Crimson Tide rolled over Ole Miss, 22-3.

• The USC Gamecocks held off the scrappy Kentucky Wildcats, eking out a 28-26 victory.

In games against non-conference opponents, here's how the SEC fared:

• The Vanderbilt Commodores lost to Army, 16-13.

• Mississippi State fell to Houston, 31-24.

When the dust settled, only four SEC teams remained in the Top 25 of the AP Poll (albeit, three of those teams were in the Top 10: Florida, still at No. 1; Alabama, passing Texas to come in at No. 2; and LSU, dropping to No. 10). My beloved University of South Carolina is at No. 22.

Would you rather?

At our house, we entertain ourselves with a simple game called "Would You Rather?" Basically, we ask progressively ick-inducing questions with two possible answers - each appallingly dreadful. For example, I might ask my husband, Bruce, a newspaper editor:

You have a breakfast meeting with the mayor and your publisher. Would you rather wear a Backstreet Boys or an N-Sync T-shirt?

Showing that he knows me well, he might respond with the shudderingly terrifying:

Would you rather do a television interview wearing no makeup, or go for a week in July without washing your hair?

As a Gamecock fan, I'm currently asking myself a typical USC question:

Would you rather know your season was doomed from the start, or get your hopes up as a result of early successes?

Here's the deal: Heartbreak was ours in 2007, when the Gamecocks got off to a 6-1 start before hitting a skid of mammoth proportions and ending the season at 6-6. At the time, I was so disappointed, I wished our victories had been meted out more evenly over the season (thus keeping our little Gamecock hearts from so being cruelly broken).

Today, I would answer the other way: I've loved the way the 2009 season has rolled out, with just the single loss to Georgia. But I know the odds are overwhelmingly against us in at least two of our remaining games -- and that our presence in the Top 25 may have a short expiration date. This Saturday we travel to No. 2 Alabama, and our final conference game is at home against the seemingly invincible Gators of Florida. The other games (against Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Arkansas and Clemson) aren't going to be picnics, either.

So, what about you? Given the choice, would you rather have the excitement of thinking this is "The Year" for your team before crashing back to earth with a thud? Or would you rather avoid extreme disappointment with a season that's sprinkled with wins and losses from the outset?

A quick survey of friends, fans, and family generated a lot of dissenting discussion and clearly mixed results. About half of them would like their team to get off to a great start, even if they encountered disappointment later in the season.

The other half said an early mix of wins and losses was preferable to shattered hopes of greatness.

Perhaps the comments that summed it up best came from Tim -- who's obviously a romantic -- and my daughter, Elizabeth, who favors economy in sentiment. Tim said, "I'd prefer high expectations and having them dashed. Dreams are a good thing." Elizabeth, way on the other end of the spectrum, said: "I'd rather know they were going to blow it in advance so I could expend my emotional energy elsewhere."

Another comment that struck a nerve was one I lifted from my tailgating buddy, Darrell Pennington, who described the weather at last week's University of South Carolina-Kentucky game as "hot as dog's breath." Doug Jolley, publisher of, threatened to sic the Columbia Chamber of Commerce on me. Hey, Doug, facts are facts and -- in this case -- there's truth in journalism.

Here are some other choice comments:

• Avid SEC and Florida fan Gigi Lehman mused, "I wonder how long it's going to take Dawgs fans to start howling for Mark Richt's head on a platter after today's (45-19) whupping by Tennessee."

The answer from Michelle went like this: "As a Georgia fan, I say give Mark Richt one more year. But I'd like to show Willie Martinez (defensive coordinator) the door right now!"

Comments about earlier columns:

• The entry about football addiction -- and my long-suffering husband's tolerance of mine -- struck a chord with quite a few. Mike 'Top Terp' Roche recalled interrupting a wedding with his yelp of joy over a Maryland win.

Michelle commiserated, saying she doesn't understand why people plan weddings, or any major events, on football Saturdays. "My in-laws asked about getting together for a family birthday this weekend," she wrote. "I told my husband, 'Are they nuts? It's Georgia-Tennessee.'"

• Gamecocks fans have been celebrating a great start to their season. (Note: Barring a miracle, the party will end this weekend in Alabama.) At the same time, we've been not-so-secretly enjoying the misery of our cross-state rivals, the Clemson Tigers. Still, I did feel a bit -- but only a bit -- sorry for R. Glen Ayers, who has degrees from both schools but is most loyal to Clemson. "Unlike the rest of you, I'm heartbroken," he wrote. "I guess I give up this year and go with South Carolina all the way . . . So, although it hurts a little, Go Cocks!" Welcome back from the dark side, Glen.

Ronda's Season Scorecard

Current USC Record -- 5 wins, 1 loss

Total points scored by Carolina - 164

Total points scored by opponents - 110

The Evil Clemson's season record - 2 wins, 3 losses

Up Next: At Alabama

Ronda's Broken Heart Meter - 0 (Hey, we're No. 22 in the AP Poll. On the other hand, we're away at Alabama this weekend, so stay tuned . . .)

Oh, and if you were wondering about the other thing I brought home from Columbia? Try sunburn of mammoth proportions. And I do mean mammoth. The weather was humid, mostly overcast and unnervingly warm. One of my tailgating buddies described it as "hot as dog's breath." If you're lucky enough to attend an SEC game, remember that "football weather" in the south does not mean "crisp, fall day!"

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