COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Corey Jenkins knew No. 4 Florida had just beaten Vanderbilt 71-13, but dismissed the score without a thought, saying it didn't matter even with the Gators coming to town next week.
"Vanderbilt is not South Carolina," Jenkins said.
Pretty heady stuff for a team that went 0-11 in 1999 and some thought might be ready to replace the Commodores as the Southeastern Conference's doormat.
This 14th-ranked Gamecock team is 7-2, same record as they had last year before heading to Florida. But the players and coach Lou Holtz said this is a better team than the one that blew a 21-3 lead and lost 41-21 in Gainesville in 2000.
"This game is very big - it's all we've been looking forward to, " said Jenkins, who split quarterbacking time with Phil Petty as South Carolina beat Division I-AA Wofford 38-14 on Saturday.
This year only Florida controls its own destiny in the SEC East. But if the Gamecocks win, all they would need is for Florida to beat Tennessee on Dec. 1 to make it to the SEC title game.
How important is next week's game to Holtz? The coach stopped by the television set to check the Florida-Vanderbilt game before talking to reporters. Already bothered by several mistakes by his team, Holtz didn't like what he saw on the tube either - Florida led Vanderbilt 71-7 on its way to a 71-13 win.
"I don't want to play Florida, but we have to," said Holtz, well-known for poor-mouthing his team's chances in public. "They are an awfully good football team."
South Carolina was supposed to have a week off before playing the Gators, but when the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks canceled the Gamecocks' game with Bowling Green, South Carolina scrambled to use the Nov. 3 open date for a rescheduled game.
Holtz would have rather had the time to prepare. "We got out of this with a win and we got out of this without any injuries," he said.
When he was hired in 1999. Holtz promised to bring South Carolina into the national spotlight. The Florida game gives the master rebuilder a chance to shine on a national stage with the ESPN Gameday crew is coming to Columbia for the first time. School officials expect a record crowd and fullback Andrew Pinnock said he's never wanted to win a game more in his life.
"Great teams play in situations like this," Pinnock said.
South Carolina blew a great opportunity to beat Florida last year. The Gamecocks recovered two blocked punts in the first quarter to take a 21-3 lead.
Then it all fell apart. The Gamecocks had been rushing punts so hard, Florida coach Steve Spurrier called a successful fake in a drive that ended with a touchdown. Guard Thomas Moody caught a deflected third-and-goal pass and scored another touchdown. And Lito Sheppard ran a punt back with 19 seconds remaining in the half to give the Gators a 31-21 lead.
Last year, South Carolina couldn't join the SEC elite, losing to Tennessee as well. With a loss to the Volunteers already in the books this year, Holtz knows a win over Florida could mean a change is afoot.
Holtz said he will spend this week trying to get his offensive line to block better against the run. The coach also hinted that he'll put in some new wrinkles to make sure this Gamecock team is a little more ready for the Gators.
"We've got a week," he said. "We'll see."
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