South Carolina vs. Tennessee implications; plus, the Gamecocks’ midseason MVPs

Welcome to SEC Country’s Chicken & Waffles, your daily dish for all things South Carolina Gamecocks football, basketball and more. Miss a previous edition? Find every edition of SEC Country’s South Carolina Gamecocks Chicken & Waffles  right here.

What’s at stake with South Carolina vs. Tennessee

As South Carolina prepares to take on Tennessee this weekend, the annual game against the Volunteers again represents a crossroads for both teams, wrote David Caraviello for SEC Country.

“It certainly did last year, when the Gamecocks’  24-21 ambushing  of the then-18th-ranked Volunteers essentially provided the victory that made South Carolina bowl eligible and began the slow warming of a coaching seat on Rocky Top that must feel white hot to Butch Jones now,” Caravello wrote. “And it will again Saturday, in a noon ET showdown at Neyland Stadium that will dictate the course of South Carolina’s season, and perhaps even determine how much longer Tennessee’s coach remains employed.”

Should the Gamecocks win on Saturday, they have a realistic shot at a New Year’s Day bowl game.

The Volunteers have plenty to play for as well. If the Vols fall, Jones’ fate could be sealed , according to SEC Network host Paul Finebaum.

Gamecocks’ midseason MVPs

Believe it or not, South Carolina is already halfway through the 2017 season. SEC Country’s Hale McGranahan has named the Gamecocks’ MVPs and top performers in their 4-2 start to the season .

One of the brightest spots on the team thus far has been sophomore linebacker T.J. Brunson, who McGranahan named “Biggest Surprise.”

“It’s not so much a surprise that Brunson is playing well, but more so that he’s been one of the most productive linebackers in the SEC,” McGranahan wrote. “His 49 tackles, the highest among Gamecocks defenders, is the third-highest total in the SEC. One of his 2 fumble recoveries, also a team-high, was a 73-yard scoop and score.”

A closer look at Jake Bentley vs. Arkansas

One week after being sacked 7 times in a 24-17 loss to Texas A&M, South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley bounced back to lead the Gamecocks to a 48-22 win over Arkansas on Saturday.

The sophomore quarterback completed 16 of 31 passes for 199 yards and 3 touchdowns.

“It was another slow start for Bentley, who completed only 5 of 15 passes for 28 yards in the first quarter,” McGranahan wrote. “But the sophomore heated up as the game wore on, connecting on 11 of 16 passes for 171 yards and 3 touchdowns.”

According to South Carolina coach Will Muschamp, Bentley’s early struggles could be attributed to some mechanical issues. Muschamp told reporters Sunday night that the quarterback’s “feet were a little out of whack.”

Gamecocks drop in SEC rankings

Despite an impressive SEC win on Saturday, South Carolina fell in SEC Country’s latest SEC Power Poll rankings .

The Gamecocks are now ranked No. 9, down one spot from No. 8 in the poll. South Carolina was rated as high as No. 5 in at least one poll and as low as No. 11.

South Carolina plays the conference’s No. 10-ranked team, Tennessee, on the road this Saturday.

FSU commit recaps visit to S.C.

Three-star safety and Florida State commit Israel Mukuamu took an official visit to South Carolina over the weekend .

The Gamecocks were the first to offer Mukuamu, who’s rated as the No. 556 overall prospect in the Class of 2018, according to the 247Sports composite.

“It went pretty well,” the 6-foot-5 safety said of his visit. “I think it was very much needed and very helpful, as far as me getting an in-depth visit, getting my family, my parents around the coaches, seeing the campus and the people.”

Mukuamu attended Berkeley High School in Moncks Corner, S.C., before transferring to Parkway High School in Bossier City, La. He’s been committed to the Seminoles since July.

Zion Williamson still likes Clemson, South Carolina

He may be getting recruited by college basketball’s blue bloods, but 5-star small forward Zion Williamson has his eye on the Palmetto State’s top two programs, according to Lou Bezjak of The State .

“No, you should not count out Clemson or South Carolina,” Williamson told Rivals’ Krysten Peek . “They’re showing me a lot of love and I like the messages they’re giving me.”

The Spartanburg, S.C., native is rated as the No. 2 overall prospect in the Class of 2018, according to 247Sports.

Feel-good flashback

What better way to prepare for the upcoming South Carolina-Tennessee game than to relive the Gamecocks’ first-ever win in Knoxville?

Josh Brown’s 49-yard field goal with less than 3 minutes left put the Gamecocks ahead for good in their 16-15 win over the Volunteers in 2005.

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