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South Carolina announces candidacy

Twenty-four years, a half-dozen coaches and a generation of mediocrity later, South Carolina has another meaningful conference game.

The Gamecocks play Tennessee Saturday afternoon with a chance to keep the pressure on Florida in the Southeastern Conference's Eastern Division.

"This is one of the things I emphasized to the kids early on," first-year coach Brad Scott said. "This is where we want to be: When we play Tennessee and Florida down the stretch, we want the games to mean something."

The last time the Gamecocks were in a conference game of significance was in 1970, when they were in the Atlantic Coast Conference. South Carolina is in its third year in the SEC after going more than 20 seasons as an independent.

The Gamecocks (5-3, 4-2) actually control their destiny in the Eastern Division. Victories over the Vols and the Gators would put USC into the SEC Championship Game.

Scott is not yet discussing that scenario, however. Playing well enough to get into this position after three successive losing seasons is one step. Whether the Gamecocks can take the next step so quickly is debatable.

"When we jumped out of blocks so well, the fans got really tickled. They were talking what kind of bowl we were going to, they were saying things that were probably four years away," Scott said. "You have to understand that we have this tremendous following that has been starved to death.

"So we've been concentrating on keeping the players focused, making them understand that we have not yet arrived."

Nobody's perfect: The head of the SEC's officials said a call was blown in the Florida-Auburn game. Actually, it was blown twice.

Early in the third quarter, Auburn's Frank Sanders fumbled a kickoff and UF's Demetric Jackson tried to scoop it up. Jackson had a foot out of bounds while he was bobbling the ball, and it eventually was kicked through the end zone. Game officials ruled it a touchback, giving Auburn possession at the 20.

SEC coordinator of officials Bobby Gaston told Gator Bait magazine that since Jackson never had possession before touching the ball while out of bounds, it should have been ruled Auburn's ball at the 8.

Failing to make that call, officials should have awarded Florida a safety on the play, because Sanders had possession outside the end zone and the ball was not intentionally kicked.

"If the Florida player had not stepped out of bounds, the correct call would have been a safety," Gaston told the magazine.

Running up records: Mississippi State coach Jackie Sherrill says he was not trying to run up the score when he put his starting quarterback back in during a 66-22 blowout of Tulane. Instead, he was being a nice guy.

Derrick Taite was near the school record for passing yards in a game when Sherrill reinserted him. Taite finished with 466 yards to eclipse the mark of 429, set by Dave Marler in 1978.

"He was 40 yards away from the record with about eight minutes to go on the clock," Sherrill said. "That record has been here a long time. You can say you don't play the games for records, but when you have a young man who's 40 yards away, you give him a chance."

Around the league: Here's something to shoot for _ Kentucky could be the first team with eight SEC losses in a season. Auburn's secondary has been lauded for its big-play abilities, but Mississippi State is the team nearing the SEC record for interception returns for touchdowns. The Bulldogs have six, one shy of the record set by Tennessee in 1971. Florida's loss to Auburn dropped it behind Alabama in the race for best SEC winning percentage in the 1990s. Alabama has a .827 winning percentage to UF's .811.