KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Tennessee fans probably would list three or four other schools as their biggest rivals before they ever mentioned South Carolina. Gamecocks fans likely feel the same way about Tennessee.
Yet you’d never know that from the annual matchups between these two schools. Each of the last five meetings between South Carolina and Tennessee has been decided by three points or less, including one overtime game .
That stretch includes two major upsets. A 2013 Tennessee team that finished below .500 beat South Carolina 23-21 to hand the Gamecocks one of their only two losses that season. South Carolina won last year’s game 24-21 as a 13 +-point underdog.
”I definitely think this is a rivalry game,” Tennessee defensive tackle Kendal Vickers said. ”Every game I’ve played (against them) since I’ve been here, it’s been close. It’s come down to the last play, last drive, last series. It’s something you definitely have to go through to understand how big a game this is.”
There won’t be any major upset Saturday when these two teams meet again at Neyland Stadium. The teams are too evenly matched for any result to be a surprise.
Tennessee enters the game as a 2 + -point favorite but is facing plenty of adversity.
The Vols (3-2, 0-2 SEC) have dropped their first two SEC games of the season to turn up the heat on coach Butch Jones. Redshirt freshman quarterback Jarrett Guarantano will be making his first career start Saturday as Tennessee tries to revive an offense that has scored a total of three points over its last six quarters.
South Carolina (4-2, 2-2) isn’t worrying much about Tennessee’s issues. The Gamecocks are simply working to build on the momentum they established in a convincing 48-22 victory over Arkansas last week.
”I haven’t heard much really,” South Carolina linebacker Skai Moore said of the turmoil at Tennessee. ”I don’t know about what’s going on off the field.”
Some other things to watch Saturday when Tennessee hosts South Carolina.
WATCH OUT FOR TURNOVERS: South Carolina has an opportunistic defense that scored three touchdowns against Arkansas. South Carolina could have a chance at more takeaways against Tennessee, which committed four turnovers against Georgia.
TOO MUCH `ROCKY TOP?’: South Carolina coach Will Muschamp has had Tennessee’s fight song, ”Rocky Top” at Gamecock practices. Muschamp figures that it will be a prominent part of the atmosphere, so why not get accustomed to it before the game? Does Muschamp like the song? ”It’s not too bad,” he said. Muschamp, who coached Florida from 2011-14, has a career record of 3-0 against Tennessee coach Butch Jones.
STRUGGLING KICKERS: South Carolina’s Parker White and Alexander Winnick are a combined 5 of 14 on field-goal attempts this season, 0 of 8 from at least 34 yards out. Tennessee’s Aaron Medley and Brent Cimaglia are a combined 3 of 7 on field-goal attempts.
CONTAINING KELLY: Tennessee’s John Kelly is rushing for 98.8 yards per game to rank second in the SEC. He should provide an interesting test for a South Carolina defense that limited Arkansas to 106 yards rushing on 32 carries. ”John Kelly is one of the elite backs in our league, there’s no doubt about that,” Muschamp said.
WHO’S MISSING: Tennessee will be playing without starting defensive end Darrell Taylor, who has been suspended indefinitely. Tennessee also won’t have injured safety/kick returner Evan Berry for a fifth straight game. Berry scored on a 100-yard kickoff return against South Carolina last season.
AP Sports Writer Pete Iacobelli in Columbia, South Carolina, contributed to this report.
More AP college football: http://collegefootball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25