(Peter Aiken/Getty Images)
Willie T. Smith, USA TODAY Sports
COLUMBIA - With the Missouri game behind it, No. 16 South Carolina returned to work this week.
The Gamecocks did so with the knowledge that they are back in the race for the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division title.
Missouri (7-1, including 3-1 in the SEC) remains in first place, but USC (6-2, 4-2), Florida (4-3, 3-2) and Georgia (4-3, 3-2) are only one loss behind. The Tigers have four SEC games remaining, against Tennessee, Kentucky, Ole Miss and No. 14 Texas A&M.
Job One this week for the Gamecocks, who would win a head-to-head tiebreaker with Missouri by virtue of their victory this past weekend, is to remember that to have any chance at the division title and a berth in the SEC Championship game, they must take care of business against their two remaining SEC foes, beginning with Mississippi State on Saturday.
PREVIEW: South Carolina-Mississippi St.
USC coach Steve Spurrier said the coaches have done everything possible to bring the team back to earth but cautions that you never know what might happen.
"I remember hearing Coach (Gary) Pinkel and all the Missouri guys talk about they'll be ready, they're not going to get full of themselves, this, that and the other," Spurrier said. "Then one kid said, 'We'd be foolish not to be thinking national championship.' I read that quote somewhere.
"It's just human nature, that when you're undefeated or something, you have thoughts of grandeur, and, 'Man, this really could be something.' But really, when you look back and the week is over and you've been through it, you have to have the ability to forget what has happened the week before.
"It's hard to do."
It appears the Gamecocks will enter the game in relatively good health with defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles (knee sprain) and backup running back Brandon Wilds (dislocated elbow) practicing this week and expected to play.
The exception is USC quarterback Connor Shaw, who is battling a virus that began to surface last Friday, Spurrier said. Dylan Thompson would start if Shaw were unable to start as he was at Missouri -- until Spurrier summoned him midway through the third quarter. Shaw led the Gamecocks from a 17-point deficit to a win in two overtimes that will go down as one of the greatest victories in the program's history.
"Dylan did not play all that poorly last week," said Spurrier. "He threw some good ones. He had a few sail on him, but overall he played pretty, pretty well."
While the Gamecocks are 13-point favorites over the Bulldogs, Spurrier said his team's inconsistency complicates how the Gamecocks may react to Saturday's challenge.
"We've got a lot of coaching to do," Spurrier said. "We don't look like we know what we're doing a lot out there. We've flirted with disaster."