Tennessee disappoints again as South Carolina stuns Vols, shakes up SEC East

Tennessee entered the second half of the season needing to run the table against a relatively soft schedule. Owning a tiebreaker over Florida, the Vols only needed one conference loss by the Gators to take home the SEC East title.

That was until Saturday, when No. 18 Tennessee lost to lowly South Carolina 24-21 to fall two games back of the Gators and a game behind Kentucky in the SEC East standings. It was a nightmare game in Columbia, South Carolina, for Tennessee as quarterback Josh Dobbs completed only 12-of-26 passes for 161 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions, including a critical pick in the fourth quarter.

The three turnovers by Tennessee led to 14 points by the Gamecocks as Will Muschamp's defense created opportunities and freshman quarterback Jake Bentley was efficient in turning those into points. Bentley completed 15-of-20 passes for 167 yards and two touchdowns, outplaying his quarterback counterpart in Dobbs.

The win keeps Muschamp undefeated against the Vols dating back to his time at Florida, bringing his record against Butch Jones to 4-0. South Carolina improves to 4-4 on the season with the win, eclipsing the program's win total from 2015 when the Gamecocks went 3-9.

As for Tennessee, a season that started with so much promise and excitement has turned into one of disappointment with a swift three-game losing streak, all in conference. The injury-ravaged Vols fought hard against Texas A&M in an overtime loss but have looked flat in losses to Alabama and South Carolina. Coach Butch Jones called out his team's effort after the loss on Saturday night.

At 2-3 in the SEC, Tennessee will need to win out against Kentucky, Missouri and Vanderbilt and hope that Florida loses two of its final three SEC games. Running the table the rest of the way was supposed to be a relatively easy proposition coming into this week with three of the cellar dwellers of the SEC East and a spunky, but ultimately less talented, Kentucky team on the schedule.

However, a bye week that was supposed to help the Volunteers regroup and possibly get healthier following a massive loss to Alabama didn't have the desired effect. A loss to this South Carolina team -- the Gamecocks barely beat UMass a week ago and lost at home by 14 points to Georgia recently -- coming out of the bye week looks especially bad for Jones and the Tennessee coaching staff.

This season was expected to be the one where Tennessee got to the top of the pile in the SEC East. Instead, the Vols have floundered to a 5-3 record and are in desperate need of help in the division. Injuries have certainly played a role in Tennessee's struggles. Fans can excuse losses to Texas A&M and Alabama, but dropping a game to South Carolina is one that Tennessee fans won't abide by.

Jones' seat just got much warmer in Knoxville, Tennessee, and the SEC East just got significantly weirder. Florida still has LSU and Arkansas on the schedule -- along with South Carolina -- which means three total SEC losses isn't out of the question. Kentucky has Georgia and Tennessee remaining in conference, and the Wildcats beating the Vols doesn't seem as far-fetched after Saturday's action as it did a few days ago.

Tennessee's loss to South Carolina has opened the door for Florida, but it has also given even hope to Kentucky that the Wildcats could potentially find themselves in Atlanta in December. This is the same Kentucky team that lost to Florida 45-7 in Week 2. It has a legitimate road to the conference title game, and that is what will anger Tennessee fans the most.

This wasn't a season where a great team emerged in the division to beat them. It is a year for the taking in the East, a year where Kentucky is good enough to be in second place going into November. And yet, the Vols look like they will most likely miss out on a division title.

CBS Sports Writer

Robby Kalland covers college football and golf for CBS Sports; he also dabbles in boxing, mixed martial arts and other sports. Prior to joining CBS in 2015, Robby spent time working for the Atlanta Hawks,... Full Bio

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