COLUMBIA, S.C. --
"Fellas, if Fate means for us to win this game Saturday, then let's give it a chance," Spurrier remembered telling the Gamecocks. "Let's give Fate a chance to happen."
Never mind the Greeks believed in multiple Fates. Spurrier was rolling. Besides, Fate had no hand in the call Spurrier made in the fourth quarter with his team up a touchdown and the ball resting on the Gamecocks' 37 -- less than three inches from the first-down mark. Instead of Fate, Spurrier listened to a voice from above. "Go for it," defensive coordinator
Spurrier agreed, and quarterback
South Carolina deserved the victory. Alabama didn't give away the game. The Gamecocks flat-out pounded the Crimson Tide. A year after handing Alabama tailback
"We played some ball today," Spurrier said. "We didn't have a bunch of fumble returns or a blocked punt. We didn't do any of that. We had to play ball today. We played to the end, and when we looked up, we'd beaten No. 1 by a couple of touchdowns."
But did South Carolina beat No. 1? In preparing his defense for the Crimson Tide, Johnson made a clear distinction between No. 1 in October and No. 1 in January. Alabama was No. 1 this past January, but this is a new season. "A lot of people are into perception," Johnson said. "We get all hyped up about things. ... We beat the No. 1 team in the polls today. We don't know they're No. 1. The season isn't over. Perception is reality. What's the perception, and what's the reality? When you come into games and you put somebody on a pedestal like that and you think you've got to play out of your skin to beat them, you make mistakes."
South Carolina made Alabama look quite mortal Saturday. Judging by his reaction after the loss, Tide coach
One such defeat debutante is Alabama quarterback
Saban said something similar, but coach and quarterback might be overconfident about their conference's standing on the national stage. When Alabama lost Saturday, Auburn and LSU were the only SEC teams that still controlled their destiny.
The SEC has produced the past four national champions, but the conference isn't as deep as its fans want to believe. When choosing teams for the BCS title game, an undefeated Pac-10 or Big Ten champ is a no-brainer over a one-loss SEC champ. Nebraska or Oklahoma might emerge undefeated from the Big 12. Boise State should be undefeated, as well. Failing an undefeated offering from the SEC, the Broncos also would be more deserving. Ditto for TCU or Utah, if either emerges undefeated from the Mountain West.
A one-loss SEC champ getting passed over might help college football's slow march to a more sensible postseason. SEC commissioner
The choice of who plays in the title game will be made based on the perception of those who vote in the coaches' poll, those who vote in the Harris Interactive poll and a bunch of computer ranking algorithms. It's just as Johnson told his players. Alabama was No. 1 in two polls released on Oct. 3. Someone else will be No. 1 on Sunday. It'll probably be Ohio State or Oregon, and Boise State may also get a few votes. Who will be No. 1 in January? Could be one of the three. Could be Nebraska. Could be TCU. Could be Utah. Could be ... South Carolina?
If the Gamecocks can manhandle the Crimson Tide the way they did Saturday, they certainly can win the first SEC East title in school history. (They could just as easily lose at Kentucky next week; after all, this is a school that believes in the Chicken Curse. But let's not stop them. They're rolling.) That feat still seemed impossible when Spurrier arrived in 2005. It seemed possible Saturday. If the Gamecocks win the East, they could win a one-game playoff for the SEC title. Sprinkle in a little chaos, 2007-style, and the 12-1 Gamecocks could be playing for the crystal football.
OK, that's a bit of a stretch. But stranger things have happened. Who knows? Maybe it's Fate.
"I gave myself a game ball," Spurrier said, smiling that wicked smile that still makes Georgia and Tennessee fans shiver. "The players didn't even know about it. One of them said, 'Let's give Fate the game ball.' I said, 'I'm accepting for Fate.'"