Based on the events around the rest of the FCS in Week 12, the Gamecocks still could be in the hunt for a playoff berth.
Granted, their wind-blown 52-14 loss to No. 2 EIU didn’t do the 22nd-ranked Gamecocks any favors, but nine other teams in The Sports Network Top 25 also lost on the day -- No. 4 Sam Houston, No. 5 Fordham, No. 8 Montana State, No. 13 Charleston Southern, No. 15 Youngstown State, No. 16 William & Mary, No. 17 Chattanooga, No. 21 Delaware and No. 24 Wofford.
Four of those teams -- Montana State, William & Mary, Delaware, Wofford -- and two winners in the poll now have more overall losses than the Gamecocks (8-3, 4-3 Ohio Valley Conference).
“The more I hear today, the more we have a chance,” JSU coach Bill Clark said Sunday. “When you talk about teams going from three to four (losses), from four to five, it starts affecting (viability). It excited me from the standpoint we still have a shot, but Lord knows we’ve got to take care of this one first.”
Postseason implications aside, the Gamecocks should have a lot of motivation for Saturday’s final regular season game against Southeast Missouri (3-8, 2-5).
This much is certain: It will be the final home game of the regular season and the final regular-season game for the team’s seniors, so there is no time to wallow in last week’s loss.
“All we have to worry about is this week,” Clark said. “We’re going to treat it like it’s the last one and if something good happens it’ll happen. We’ve been here before and responded like we’re supposed to. When we come in at 6:30 tomorrow morning we’re going to put this one to bed and we’ll look at this last regular-season game like our Super Bowl.”
Eastern Illinois (10-1, 7-0) and Tennessee State (9-3, 6-2) are the only two OVC teams in The Sports Network’s projected playoff bracket this week. TSU has completed its regular season. EIU wraps up with Tennessee-Martin, who, at 5-2 in the OVC and with a win over Chattanooga, is another team with at-large aspirations.
The real 24-team field will be announced Sunday on ESPNU at 10:30 a.m.
The Gamecocks appeared to get blown off the big board in windy Charleston, Ill, on Saturday. The Panthers jumped on them early and never gave them a chance to catch up. Taking advantage of a favorable wind, the Panthers scored 35 points in the first quarter and just settled in to celebrate winning their second straight outright OVC title.
The Panthers ran for a school-record 413 yards with Shepard Little going for 245. Little ran for two touchdowns, caught another and threw for a fourth all in the first 12 minutes of the game.
Once the Gamecocks collected themselves, it was only a 17-14 game over the final three quarters, but by then the damage had already been done.
The Gamecocks’ own offense was impacted by the wind. They completed only 8 of 22 passes for 98 yards. They had balls sail off target or had the wind itself act as an extra EIU defensive back knocking balls down before they even got to receivers.
Their ground game managed 155 yards, although DaMarcus James did set the school record with his 20th rushing touchdown on the season. He can break the OVC mark next week.
“We knew they were a great team,” Clark said. “We probably had to play perfect and didn’t play a great game.
“The bottom line is we have to put that game behind us. We won’t be happy until we get back on the practice field and get to work.”
Sports Writer Al Muskewitz: 256-235-3577. On Twitter @almusky_star.