We continue our "Most important game" series, which looks at the most important game for each SEC team in 2014. These are the games that will have the biggest impact on the league race or hold special meaning for one of the teams involved. We take a look at South Carolina on Thursday.
Most important game: Nov. 15 at Florida
Key players: Now that titanium-constructed Connor Shaw is gone, Dylan Thompson takes over as the Gamecocks' signal-caller. Thompson has the chops and has been through this before, thanks to Shaw's past injuries. Thompson will have to deal with the SEC's best corner in Vernon Hargreaves III and one of the league's best pass rushers in Dante Fowler Jr. Florida's defense has some new working parts, but people in Gainesville are very excited about the talent that will be flying around out there. The good news for Thompson is that he has receivers in Damiere Byrd, Nick Jones and Shaq Roland who combined to catch 85 passes for 1,311 yards and 14 touchdowns a year ago. Byrd is one of the SEC's fastest receivers, while Roland has a chance to be a breakout player this fall. They'll all have to step up against Florida's athletic secondary. One guy who could take a lot of pressure off Thompson is running back Mike Davis, who rushed for 1,183 yards and 11 touchdowns last year. He's the ultimate bruiser through the middle of the field, but once he gets open on the edge, he's gone. Florida contained him last year, but expect the Gamecocks to go to him more this fall. One way to keep Fowler under wraps will be for left tackle Corey Robinson to play lights out. He's already projected as a first-round pick in next year's NFL draft, and the battle between those two should be excellent. The defense could have its hands full if quarterback Jeff Driskel can get the Gators' offense moving this fall, so play up front from defensive linemen J.T. Surratt, Gerald Dixon and Gerald Dixon Jr. will be important. Getting to the edge to counter the zone read that has made Driskel successful in the past will be key. Spur Sharrod Golightly and linebacker Skai Moore will be key to containing the run and spying on Driskel.
Why it matters: South Carolina has made tremendous strides under Steve Spurrier, but the Gamecocks have yet to win an SEC title under the Head Ball Coach. Last year's team was tremendously talented and had everything it needed (well, except the necessary amount of wins) to play in Atlanta. Does this team? Not sure. Time will tell, but if the Gamecocks are going to have any shot of getting back to Atlanta, they have to win at Florida. The SEC Eastern Division is so wide open, with every team having a laundry list of questions. Chances are the winner from the East won't have less than two losses heading into the last couple of weeks of the season. There are just too many issues and too much competition. The Gamecocks can take an early blow, but you never want to get to the end and have to worry about winning a tiebreaker (hello, U.S. soccer team!). If the Gamecocks can get to Gainesville with just one SEC loss, a win should send them to Atlanta. Two losses coming in, and beating Florida is a must.