Fight to the finish?

Tennessee's football team struggles to finish games; South Carolina's football team struggles to finish seasons.

That should make for an interesting confrontation when the Vols and Gamecocks collide this afternoon at 12:21 in Williams-Brice Stadium.

Tennessee's difficulty finishing games has been too well chronicled to warrant revisiting at this time but one stat pretty much says it all: The Vols are outscoring their opponents 83-74 in the first half but being outscored by a whopping 132-67 margin in the second half.

Strange as it seems, South Carolina's difficulty finishing seasons may be even more pronounced. Consider the Gamecocks' recent history:

2006: South Carolina stood 5-2 through seven games, then lost three straight outings, including home-field setbacks to Tennessee (31-24) and Arkansas (26-20) en route to an 8-5 finish.

2007: The Gamecocks were 6-1 and ranked No. 5 nationally through seven games, then inexplicably collapsed and lost their last five games. Included were humbling home-field losses to Vanderbilt (17-6) and Florida (51-31).

2008: South Carolina started 5-2, then lost four of its remaining six games. Included were a 56-6 beat-down at Florida, a 31-14 drubbing by Clemson and a 31-10 trouncing by Iowa in the Outback Bowl.

2009: The Gamecocks raced to a 5-1 start, then dropped five of their remaining seven games. Included were a 31-13 loss at Tennessee, a 33-16 setback at Arkansas and an embarrassing 20-7 loss to UConn in the Bowl.

Optimistic South Carolina fans insist there will be no such fade in 2010. In fact, the fade already may have begun. This fall's Cocks got off to a sizzling 4-1 start that included a 35-21 pasting of top-ranked Alabama en route to a No. 12 national ranking. Since then, however, they suffered a 28-21 loss to Kentucky and struggled mightily to subdue lowly Vanderbilt 21-7.

All things considered, today's SEC East showdown could be billed "The Battle of the Fades." The outcome may boil down to this: Which will be the greater liability - Tennessee's inability to finish off a game or South Carolina's inability to finish off a season?

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