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Florida Gators vs. South Carolina Gamecocks Preview and Prediction

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Just a week ago, anyone who said South Carolina (3-6) had a chance againstFlorida (8-1) would have been accused of being a "COCK-eyed" optimist.

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But after Florida's sluggish 9-7 victory against Vanderbilt and Carolina's 27-24 near miss at Tennessee, perhaps the idea of the revived Gamecocks defeating the Gators, who have already clinched the SEC East, isn't so far fetched.

The game figured to have lost some spice once Steve Spurrier resigned as South Carolina's head coach a month ago, but perhaps it now has more. Shawn Elliott may have only won one of his three games as the Gamecocks' head coach, but the team's efforts have been revived and a victory against either the Gators or certainly Clemson might earn the energetic coach the position permanently.

No knock against Spurrier, who won't be attending the game, but isn't Elliott's mini-revival a more satisfying story than the Ol' Ball Coach limping through a blowout loss against the program he essentially established? Wouldn't Florida fans, hopeful their team can sneak into the College Football Playoff by winning out, want victories against the strongest possible opponents to enhance their cause?

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Florida at South Carolina

Kickoff: 12 p.m. ET (Saturday)

TV: ESPN

Spread: Florida -7.5

Three Things To Watch

1. The quarterbacks

Certainly any fan watching a football game will focus on the quarterbacks, but South Carolina's Perry Orth and Florida's Treon Harris both began the season on the bench before leading their teams to comebacks last week.

Sort of.

Harris was behind center when he led the Gators to their game-winning drive, but it came after Florida got the ball at the Vanderbilt 45 following a 12-yard punt. He did complete both passes he threw to pave the way for much-maligned Austin Hardin's game-winning 43-yard field goal, but it is telling head coach Jim McElwain elected to run the ball on third and three with three minutes remaining than attempt a pass.

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Harris has not been an accurate passer since taking over for Will Grier and threw his first interception of the season against Vanderbilt.

Meanwhile, Perry Orth led South Carolina back from a 17-0 deficit at Tennessee that likely would have resulted in a Gamecocks victory had Malik Foreman not stripped the ball from tight end Jerell Adams on the final drive. While Elliott mentioned this week Connor Mitch, who began the season as the starter before injuries sidelined him, would see some time this season, this game would be a curious time to go back to the two-quarterback system. 

It's true the winning percentages of quarterbacks who throw for 300 or more yards in a game isn't necessarily outstanding, but the thought occurs if either of these quarterbacks have a really big game his team is probably going to win the game.

2. Pharoh Cooper vs. Vernon Hargreaves III

It's likely Hargreaves, the SEC's best cornerback, will be asked to cover Cooper, the Gamecocks' best wide receiver.

Hargreaves is the very definition of a "shutdown corner," a primary reason why the Gators have the 12th best pass defense in the nation, limiting opponents to fewer than 175 yards through the air a game. Additionally, Hargreaves has four of Florida's 11 interceptions this year.

Historically South Carolina has been very innovative in finding ways to get Cooper the ball. But in the long run it is in the Gamecocks' best interest if Cooper can get the ball 40 yards downfield instead of behind the line of scrimmage on a run-pass option.

While NFL draft order is often determined by combine performance as much as anything else, if Cooper was able to, say, catch a long pass against such a formidable cornerback wouldn't it speak highly of his pro prospect status?

3. How will Florida's defensive line injuries affect them?

The Gators' defensive line reads like a medical chart. Nose tackle Joey Ivie (3 1/2 sacks) is out for the second straight game and left defensive end Jon Bullard (44 tackles- 13 for loss) is doubtful. Backup rush end Jordan Sherit won't be available for the first half after getting ejected against the Commodores and Thomas Holley continues to be sidelined.

Free safety Keanu Neal (55 tackles- third on team) may also miss the game with a foot injury.

Granted, Sherit and Holley haven't been tremendous impact players this season. But Bullard, Neal, and Ivie have and line up on Hargreaves' side of the field, though one gets the feeling Hargreaves' side of the field will be whichever side Cooper lines up at.

Ivie and Bullard's replacements are freshmen, Neal's is sophomore Duke Dawson.

Do the Gamecocks try to exploit this by running Brandon Wilds and throwing to the right, possibly to newfound linebacker-fullback hybrid Jonathan Walton? Something to watch.

Final Analysis

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The feeling here is the Gators had their let down last week. The Gamecocks already had their big victory this season against North Carolina. They just didn't know it at the time. It won't be a blowout, but Florida can continue to hold on to their national championship dreams after the game.

Prediction: Florida 27, South Carolina 20

— Written by Marky Billson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. An experienced beat reporter and sports writer, Billson began contributing to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2000. He has covered the Steelers, Pitt Panthers, MLB and more during his career. Follow him on Twitter @MarkyBillson.