Key stretch: South Carolina

The South Carolina Gamecocks take their turn in our key stretch series.

Key stretch: at Mississippi State (Oct. 15), at Tennessee (Oct. 29), at Arkansas (Nov. 5), Florida (Nov. 12)

Breakdown: The good news for the Gamecocks is that they get a bye week after traveling to Mississippi State in the first leg of this grueling four-game stretch. The bad news is that South Carolina is the only team in the SEC this season that has to play three league games in a row in another team's home stadium. The Gamecocks travel to Tennessee on Oct. 29 and then hit the road the next week for Arkansas before coming back home and facing Florida on Nov. 12 in a game that settled the Eastern Division race a year ago. That trip to Starkville on Oct. 15 could be the difference between a very good season and a great season for the Gamecocks in 2011.

Prediction: Getting that first one against Mississippi State will be critical, especially with the bye coming that next week. Either way, South Carolina should be rested for the stretch run. The Gamecocks have lost their past two in Knoxville and haven't played well, period, against Arkansas. South Carolina could be 6-0 and riding high when the Gamecocks roll into Starkville. Whatever their record is, the Gamecocks are going to have a hard time winning that one. But my guess is they rebound to beat Tennessee, lose to Arkansas and then take care of Florida to go 2-2 and repeat as the East champion thanks to the head-to-head tiebreaker with Georgia and Florida.

The Rundown