By: RANDY MOORE
Just when you least expect it, something crazy happens in the world of college football.
A Div. 1-AA Appalachian State squad knocks off Michigan at The Big House in 2007. No one in his right mind could've foreseen that.
A 38-point underdog Stanford team upsets Southern Cal 24-23, also in 2007. No one in his right mind could've foreseen that.
Likewise, no one in his right mind can foresee a 3-5 Tennessee team winning at South Carolina this Saturday night. Heck, the Vols have an injury-plagued defense and a mistake-plagued offense. They have no success to build on and no momentum to draw on. They have no offensive balance, unless you count the fact they run the ball and throw the ball with equal futility. They have nothing to play for, unless you count a head coach who already may be a lame duck.
But, wait ... there's more. Phillip Fulmer's record is 5-8 against South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, who seems to have taken up permanent residence inside Fulmer's head. What's more, Spurrier is looking for revenge after his team handed UT a gift-wrapped 27-24 overtime win last year in Knoxville.
Still with me? Since Tennessee has no running game, its best bet may be to throw 40 passes and pray a few of them will be caught by guys with Ts on their helmets. Unfortunately, South Carolina ranks No. 3 nationally in pass defense, so that prayer might go unanswered.
Five weeks have passed since Ole Miss shocked Florida, so it's time for something crazy to happen in college football ... like Tennessee winning a meaningful game ... just when you least expect it.
THE CASE FOR SOUTH CAROLINA
By: JEFFERY STEWART
Since South Carolina joined the SEC back in 1992 the Vols have pretty much had their way in this match-up, compiling a 14-2 record.
Some have been one-sided, like the 55-3 win in 1993, 56-21 in 1995 and 49-14 in 1998. However since that blowout this series has been unusually close with the Vols winning two in overtime (2003, 2007). The biggest margin of victory during the last 10 meetings was a 43-29 UT victory in 2004.
Since 1992 South Carolina has only won twice over UT and both were one-point victories. But the most significant commonality in those wins were the circumstances that accompanied them. In 1992 the Vols lost two games in a row before being edged by the Gamecocks 24-23 to extend the losing streak to three straight. That was the death blow for head coach Johnny Majors who announced his resignation later that week.
In the 2005 the Vols faced South Carolina on the heels of another two-game losing streak and dropped a 16-15 decision. Tennessee went on to suffer its first losing season in 17 years.
This year Tennessee comes into the game with a 3-5 mark, which is the worst at this point of any of Phillip Fulmer's prior seasons. The Vols are coming off a 29-9 loss to Alabama and have lost four of their last six games. Fulmer is on the hot seat and this is win is critical to UT's bowl hopes as it may be the head coach's job.
The tightening of this series over the years reflects the leveling of the talent field. The introduction of Steve Spurrier into competition gives South Carolina a tactical edge. Having two weeks to prepare for this year's game while UT is coming off a physical battle against Alabama is a decided S.C. advantage, as is the home field venue.
South Carolina's strength is an outstanding defense from a unit that returns 10 starters. The Gamecocks are leading the SEC in total defense and are No. 4 in the nation. UT counters with the SEC's No. 11 offense and the nation's No. 112 ranked offense. South Carolina has the SEC's No. 1 pass defense and Tennessee has the SEC's No. 9 rushing attack. ADVANTAGE S.C.
Both teams have made quarterback changes this year with Steven Garcia taking over at South Carolina. He brings a strong arm, excellent mobility and a good understanding of his role. He's easily the most talented QB Spurrier returned to the college ranks and he test the Vols.
Certainly there is no lack of motivation for a team that hasn't beaten Tennessee in Columbia since 1992. The Vols will be motivated to reverse the course of this season and relieve some of the pressure that is on their head coach and the program.
The question is will that type of negative incentive be enough to overcome the litany of edges South Carolina enjoys? It didn't work for the 1992 UT team that had vastly superior personnel to South Carolina. It didn't work for Coach Majors either and he was 5-3 instead of 3-5.