By: Eric SanInocencio
SEC Digital Network
Birmingham, Ala. -- Two top ten teams in the SEC. An epic battle that will decide a possible trip to Atlanta. Two great coaches that have an outstanding pedigree. Everything on the line in prime time on Saturday night.
Surely you have heard this. But, this weekend’s South Carolina–Arkansas game is an SEC contest that fits that same bill, just like the LSU–Alabama matchup that has received much of the nation’s attention.
The Gamecocks will travel on Saturday night to take on Arkansas, a pair of squads trying to cement their spots in the hierarchy of the Southeastern Conference. The two teams are a combined 14-2 on the year, and sit comfortably in the top nine of the latest BCS Rankings. Both also have hopes of heading to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game, with this contest serving as a key moment in the season for both.
As rare as it is to have one matchup that features two top 10 teams from the same conference, having two in the same week is unheard of. Yet that will be the case on Saturday, as both games will share the nearly the same level of importance in the SEC.
Much like their Western Division rivals Alabama and LSU, Arkansas is playing for a shot to go to the Georgia Dome. The best news Arkansas gets this week is that one of the two teams above them will finally lose, putting them back in the race should they capture a victory over South Carolina. Tschool history. Bobby Petrino's bunch has one of most prolific offenses in the league, scoring over 36 points per game. That mark is third in the conference, ranking behind only....you guessed it, Alabama and LSU.
The Razorback passing game is another story. Led by Tyler Wilson, viewed by many as the top quarterback in the SEC, they average just over 321 yards per game through the air. This number tops the SEC, and places them ninth in the nation in that category. Wilson himself has been a revelation. The tough signal caller has 2327 yards passing on the year, and an impressive efficiency rating of 146. To put that in perspective, Wilson's personal output of 290 yards a game is more than any other teams total in the SEC.
For South Carolina, the stakes are just as big. Head coach Steve Spurrier and his team head into town with a share of the SEC Eastern Division lead, and are in the driver's seat for a return trip to Atlanta. The new look Gamecocks are hoping to continue their historic run, after Spurrier took them to the SEC Championship Game for the first time last season.
This year's version has a different look, and has battled injuries and adversity throughout 2011. After starting the campaign with Stephen Garcia at the helm, Connor Shaw is now the man under center for the Gamecocks. Since the move to start Shaw, South Carolina is 3-0, picking up two road wins at Mississippi State and Tennessee. The victory over the Vols might have been more impressive, seeing as how the Gamecocks achieved it without the services of star running back Marcus Lattimore.
For much of the season, Lattimore was considered a legitimate threat for the Heisman Trophy, as he spearheaded USC's offensive attack for the first five games of the year. But a knee injury in the final minutes of the win in Starkville knocked the back out for the year, forcing talented but unproven freshman Brandon Wilds to step in. Wilds has responded, picking up 5.2 yards per carry in his 41 attempts.
This will be South Carolina's third straight road game in the SEC, and the final time they will play away from Columbia this season. While a USC win doesn't clinch the Eastern Division by any means, it makes their path to the Georgia Dome that much easier.
So, as the clock turns to seven o'clock this Saturday night, make sure you have the picture-in-picture feature on your TV ready to go. Because even though #1 and #2 are playing at that time in Tuscaloosa, almost as much is on the line when #7 and #9 play in Fayetteville.