Florida-South Carolina Preview
By MATT BECKER
(AP) -- South Carolina and Florida expect to have their starting quarterbacks back after both were knocked out of their last game.
Issues at quarterback are among the many obstacles the Gamecocks have dealt with this season, but they still enter their SEC regular-season finale in the hunt for a berth in the conference championship game.
Connor Shaw looks to help No. 15 South Carolina boost its Eastern Division title hopes Saturday when it hosts the Gators, who expect to have John Brantley back under center.
South Carolina (7-2, 5-2) is one-half game back of East-leading Georgia but owns the tiebreaker because it beat the Bulldogs 45-42 on Sept. 10. However, even if the Gamecocks defeat Florida, they would still need Georgia to lose either Saturday to Auburn or Nov. 19 against Kentucky to claim a second straight SEC title game berth.
Although South Carolina needs help to get the chance to play for the conference championship, it's somewhat surprising the team even has a shot considering what it has gone through.
Star running back Marcus Lattimore suffered a season-ending left leg injury against Mississippi State on Oct. 15, and starting quarterback Stephen Garcia was dismissed from the team four days earlier for failing a substance-abuse test.
Shaw took over for Garcia but was knocked out of last Saturday's 44-28 loss to No. 8 Arkansas with a concussion after being sacked for the fifth time. The defeat dropped the Gamecocks five spots in the latest AP poll.
Steve Spurrier said Tuesday that Shaw was cleared to return to practice and is likely to play against Florida, but safety DeVonte Holloman, who also suffered a concussion against the Razorbacks, has not yet been cleared by doctors and is questionable for Saturday.
"We've won a bunch of games, so we've just got to look at where we are and try to get ready to play our best this week with the players we have," Spurrier said. "And that's what we're going to try and do."
A victory Saturday would give the Gamecocks six SEC wins, something they've never accomplished since joining the league 19 years ago. It would also give them back-to-back wins over the Gators (5-4, 3-4) for the first time since 1936 and '39.
"When you look at the way our team has played this year, you have to say, 'Hey those guys are 7-2 and have a chance to achieve something this year,'" said Spurrier, Florida's coach from 1990-2001.
Lattimore, however, was crucial to last season's 36-14 win at No. 24 Florida - just South Carolina's second victory in 20 meetings. He rushed for 212 yards and three touchdowns on a career-high 40 attempts.
The Gamecocks didn't seem to miss a beat in their first game since his season-ending injury, amassing 231 rushing yards in a 14-3 win over Tennessee on Oct. 29, but they were held to a season-low 79 yards on the ground against Arkansas. New starting back Brandon Wilds was limited to 21 yards on 10 carries.
Wilds and company are facing a Florida defense that ranks fourth in the SEC against the run, allowing an average of 123.3 yards per game and 3.4 per carry.
The Gators held Vanderbilt to 80 yards rushing in last Saturday's 26-21 win and snapped a four-game losing streak - the program's longest since 1988.
"We're building our battle scars right now; we've got a bunch," coach Will Muschamp said.
Brantley missed the final two series against the Commodores after being hit between his shoulder and elbow in the fourth quarter and temporarily losing feeling in his throwing hand. The senior, who sat out 2 1/2 games earlier this season with a sprained right ankle, missed practice Monday but is expected to play this weekend.
The Gators also could welcome back Chris Rainey, the team's leading rusher (526 yards) and receiver (305 yards), after he injured his right ankle in a 24-20 loss to Georgia on Oct. 29.
Jeff Demps, who had been slowed by an ankle injury, picked up the slack in Rainey's absence against Vanderbilt, rushing for a career-best 158 yards and two touchdowns.
Updated November 9, 2011