Standing in the way of South Carolina's first SEC championship game is a trip to Florida, where it has never won and lost by 50 in its last visit.
The 22nd-ranked Gamecocks hope having the coach who has won more games in Gainesville than anyone else is enough to finally break through.
The SEC East will be decided Saturday night as Steve Spurrier brings South Carolina to The Swamp, where the No. 24 Gators can erase the memories of their midseason slump by clinching a third consecutive trip to Atlanta.
Florida (6-3, 4-3) has played in 10 SEC title games and was led in seven of those by Spurrier, whose 122 wins are more than any coach in Gators football history.
South Carolina (6-3, 4-3) expected Spurrier to turn around its middling program upon his arrival in 2005 like he once did with the Gators, but he's yet to lead the Gamecocks to their first SEC East crown. He finally can in Gainesville, where South Carolina is 0-12 all-time -- including a 56-6 loss two years ago that was his worst as a coach.
"We're going to find out if we can perform on the big stage, and this is the big stage down there, one of the biggest in the nation," Spurrier said.
The Gamecocks have won once in the series' last 19 meetings -- 30-22 in Columbia in 2005 -- and they don't exactly come into this matchup riding high. A 41-20 home loss to Arkansas last Saturday dropped South Carolina to 2-2 since its 35-21 stunner over then-top ranked Alabama on Oct. 9.
Beating the Razorbacks wouldn't have made a difference, though. The Gamecocks still would have needed to beat Florida to earn a trip to the conference title game.
Given their history in Gainesville and their recent offensive carelessness -- the offense has 11 turnovers in three losses -- Spurrier knows his team has to shape up fast.
"We're going down there understanding the importance, but also understanding it's a football game, and to play your best, you have to be somewhat relaxed, you can't get all hyper and tensed up and scared and stuff like that," he said.
The Gators have momentum, which is hard to believe after they looked so bad offensively in consecutive losses to Alabama, LSU and Mississippi State to begin October. Florida emerged from its bye week much sharper and beat Georgia 34-31, then pounded Vanderbilt 55-14 last Saturday.
"We stumbled around a lot. I feel like we're back on track," center Mike Pouncey said. "It means a lot. Our whole goal in the offseason is to get to Atlanta. If you would have told me we would have lost three games and still had a chance to win this last game and go to the SEC championship, I wouldn't take it back for nothing in the world."
After averaging 329.0 yards through seven games, the Gators have averaged 465.0 in their last two -- running and passing for more than 200 yards in each.
It's no coincidence Florida's offense is coming together as coach Urban Meyer has introduced some more wrinkles. After watching John Brantley struggle in his first eight games as the starter, Meyer let freshman tight end Jordan Reed split time with Brantley under center against the Commodores.
The result was Reed throwing for 120 yards -- including a 31-yard touchdown to Deonte Thompson -- along with rushing for 84 and a score.
It might be a little early to compare the 6-foot-3, 240-pound Reed to Tim Tebow, but his teammates are certainly impressed.
"He's pretty hard to tackle," receiver Frankie Hammond said. "He can hit the holes hard, and then he can drop back and pass, and put it where it needs to be. He's coming along as a quarterback."
Florida may want to let Brantley and Reed take some chances deep Saturday. South Carolina's pass defense (264.7 yards per game) is 109th in the nation, and that seems unlikely to improve anytime soon. Chris Culliver (shoulder) is out for the season and fellow starting cornerback C.C. Whitlock is recovering from a concussion.
On the other side, the Gamecocks are hoping star tailback Marcus Lattimore will be 100 percent after bruising his knee against Arkansas.
If the freshman is at all limited, that puts more pressure on Stephen Garcia to find SEC leading receiver Alshon Jeffrey against a Gators defense that has 17 interceptions -- tied for first in the nation.
No matter what, the Gamecocks know the respect the program has been seeking is just a win away.
"People will change their minds about us," linebacker Rodney Paulk said.
Top 25 Overview
The SEC East title will be on the line Saturday when South Carolina visits Florida. The Gamecocks will need to buck history if they want to advance to the SEC title game: They've never won at The Swamp. South Carolina is coming off a 21-point loss to Arkansas, and Florida has won two straight after a three-game skid.