COLUMBIA - Florida's football team usually views South Carolina as a mere side dish before the main course.
Florida State normally looms for the Gators a week later, so Gamecock fans make a habit out of pinning their hopes on the overwhelming favorites overlooking their underdogs.
South Carolina doesn't have the luxury of irrelevance anymore. The No. 14 Gamecocks will play possibly the biggest game in their history Saturday when the No. 4 Gators visit Williams-Brice Stadium (7:45 p.m., ESPN).
"This is why you work," South Carolina coach Lou Holtz said Monday. "To get to a game like this."
It's a pretty big game for Florida, too. Since they bulldozed Vanderbilt by 58 points last week, the Gators (7-1, 5-1 Southeastern Conference) have let everyone know that they plan to chomp with full and undivided force Saturday.
Florida quarterback Rex Grossman called it "the biggest game I've ever played in," and for good reason. The winner jumps into the driver's seat for the SEC East title. The loser gets booted out of the car.
The Gamecocks have to win Saturday and hope Florida beats Tennessee on Dec. 1. The Gators must beat the Gamecocks (7-2, 5-2) and Volunteers.
"It's do or die, baby," said Florida safety Marquand Manuel. "It's playoff time. Win or go home."
Perhaps nothing underscores how far Holtz has taken his program in such a short time than the game's setting and its implications. ESPN's popular GameDay pre-game show will originate from the fairgrounds adjacent to the stadium, then the Gators and Gamecocks will slug it out before the nation.
}Holtz's weekly ritual usually consists of building up the next week's opponent and listing all the reasons why his team has no business being on the same field.
Though he did marvel at the Gators on Monday - "They just dominate people." - Holtz stressed that his team is capable of orchestrating the upset and punching its ticket for the Dec. 8 SEC title game in Atlanta.
Reach Larry Williams at (706) 823-3645 or email@example.com.