17th-ranked Gamecocks not resting on SEC success
Akeem Auguste has been on too many South Carolina teams who started out strong and finished with a thud. And after clinching a spot in the Southeastern Conference title game, the Gamecocks defensive back doesn't want any stumbles down the stretch of the team's most special season in years.
That starts Saturday against Troy (5-4), which plays No. 17 South Carolina on Saturday at Williams-Brice Stadium.
''Our past here, usually these last three or four games, we just go downhill, the old South Carolina,'' said Auguste, a junior. ''But not this team.''
Auguste knows the disappointment of watching successful seasons fall apart. The Gamecocks had won six games and were ranked each of the previous three seasons. But they went 3-7 the past three Novembers.
South Carolina exorcised that tradition last week with a 36-14 victory at Florida - the Gamecocks first win in Gainesville. Now they're going to their first SEC title game.
''For us to be No. 1, that's pretty big,'' Auguste said. ''So from now on my kids and other people's kids are going to remember this team.''
Auguste hopes to give them even more to remember the next two weeks. The Gamecocks (7-3) have only had 10 8-win seasons and just two with as many as nine wins. A victory over bitter rival Clemson on Nov. 27 would be two straight for South Carolina over the Tigers since winning three in a row from 1968-70.
Then, of course, comes the SEC championship matchup with No. 2 Auburn in the Georgia Dome on Dec. 4 and the chance for South Carolina's first conference crown since winning the Atlantic Coast Conference title in 1969.
''We have to finish strongly and see what else we can accomplish this year,'' South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said. ''Our team has set a lot of high goals. Most of them are still in front of us, so we'll see how it goes for these last three games.''
Spurrier wishes he could keep his fans focused on Troy, too. Instead, the crowd at Williams-Brice Stadium likely won't stop reveling in last week's win, even if the Gamecocks come out flat.
Several thousand people waited for the team's arrival last Sunday morning until about 2:30 a.m., joyous over a triumph many thought would never happen.
Auguste said defensive end Cliff Matthews was sent a picture of the crowd gathering to celebrate.
Troy, a three-touchdown underdog, hopes there was too much celebrating taking place and maybe the Gamecocks can be caught napping as they were last month when they followed a 35-21 victory over No. 1 Alabama with a 31-28 loss at Kentucky.
The Trojans have lost both previous meetings with South Carolina, the last time 45-20 in Spurrier's debut season. But Troy, seeking a fifth straight Sun Belt Conference title, wants to stay sharp for a league championship run of its own.
''We've got a big challenge ahead of us, there's no doubt about it,'' Troy offensive lineman Tyler Graves said. ''Anything's possible. We don't want to scare them. We want to beat them.''
Spurrier says he'll do what he's done with the Gamecocks all season - let Marcus Lattimore run. South Carolina's freshman star gained a career-high 212 yards on 40 carries to power past the Gators.
''We're not going to come out and throw three incompletes and move on,'' Spurrier said. ''I just wanted to tell our fans that, we're going to come out running the ball and try to win us a game.''
AP Sports Writer John Zenor in Birmingham, Ala., and Jeffrey Collins of The Associated Press in Columbia, S.C., contributed to this report.