SEC Showdown

Kentucky vs. South Carolina? Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier knows too well where this game used to rank in the Southeastern Conference.

``You guys have seen this game for how many years? What'd it mean? Somebody won, somebody lost and somebody's still in position to win six'' games to qualify for a bowl game, Spurrier said Monday. ``Now, it's more meaningful.''

Florida, Georgia and Tennessee have nothing on the No. 8 Wildcats (5-0, 1-0 SEC) and No. 11 Gamecocks (4-1, 2-1), who meet at Williams-Brice Stadium in a surprising early power struggle in the SEC Eastern Division.

``It could be one of the best games we've had around here in a long time,'' Spurrier said.

Oddsmakers from SBG Global  have made South Carolina 3.5 point spread favorites (View College Football odds) for Thursday's game (Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 60% of bets for this game have been placed on Kentucky +3.5 (View College Football bet percentages).

A big reason is Kentucky's stunning start.

The Wildcats already own a pair of impressive victories over Louisville (40-34) and Arkansas (42-29). Another against South Carolina would make them 6-0 for first time since Bear Bryant's SEC champions in 1950 opened 10-0.

They're led by quarterback Andre Woodson, who Spurrier compared to former Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer, currently starring for the Cincinnati Bengals.

``He's a beautiful passer,'' Spurrier said of Woodson. ``He stands good and tall, knees just slightly flexed. He throws a nice, overhand ball.''

He's accurate, too.

Woodson had his NCAA record streak of 325 attempts without an interception stopped against Florida Atlantic last week. Still, he threw a career-best five TD passes in Kentucky's 45-17 victory.

Woodson figures to get his strongest test so far against the Gamecock secondary, which is ranked No. 1 in the country in pass defense.

That's a far cry from a year ago when Spurrier brought out defensive backs coach Ron Cooper during his postgame press conference to explain how the Gamecocks' comfortable 14-point, fourth-quarter lead nearly slipped away in the final minutes of their 24-17 win.

``We heard about that a lot,'' South Carolina safety Chris Hampton said, smiling. ``After we had those mental lapses last year, it was constantly brought up about what we have to do.''

Hampton and the rest of the defensive backs have already heard an earful this week about Woodson's talent and poise. The Wildcats success so far is apparent, they lead the SEC in scoring at more than 46 points a game.

``Kentucky, without a doubt, is the best pass team, maybe the best offense, we've played thus far,'' Spurrier said.

The Wildcats have won 10 of their past 11 games. The nationally televised game Thursday could bring that success to a wider audience. Kentucky coach Rich Brooks is only focused on a victory, no matter how it's achieved.

``I'm not as interested in showing the people across the country what we're doing or what we're about,'' Brooks said Monday. ``Even if it's ugly, I'd like to get to 2-0'' in the SEC.

South Carolina's offense may be improving, too.

Freshman Chris Smelley started at quarterback in place of fifth-year senior Blake Mitchell when Spurrier wanted more zip out of his ``Cock-n-Fire'' attack.

Smelley answered with 279 yards and two TD passes to receiver Kenny McKinley in the Gamecocks' 38-21 win over Mississippi State last Saturday.

``We hit some balls downfield a little bit more than in the past,'' Smelley said. ``So that looked pretty good.''

The Gamecocks also have a couple of sizable streaks on their side. They haven't lost to Kentucky since 1999, winning the past seven games. Spurrier hasn't lost to the Wildcats period, a perfect 14-0 in his career at Florida and South Carolina.

Gone are the days, Spurrier says, when his players would roll up the score on Kentucky: Remember Florida's 73-7 win in 1994?

``Yeah, we used to have a lot better teams than Kentucky. Now we're very close,'' he said. ``It's two evenly matched teams.''

They're also two teams who hope to upset what's been the Eastern Division's longtime power structure. No team other than Florida, Georgia or Tennessee has represented the division in the SEC title game.

``Kentucky, shoot, they're a lot like us,'' Spurrier says. ``They're used to being in the bottom half of the SEC East. Now all of a sudden, we've got one of the big games in the conference.''

by: Anthony White - theSpread.com - Email Us

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