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Is it better for the Vols if South Carolina is a serious rival?

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The Vols already have a tough group of rivals in the SEC. Does having another one really help?

Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

At first glance, this question may seem like a dumb one. Of course it's not better for the Tennessee Volunteers if South Carolina is relevant. That just means one more tough game on a schedule that is already one of the tougher ones in the country every season. But the question is worth considering with the Gamecocks coming to town this weekend.

Having the South Carolina Gamecocks as a serious rival year in and year out helps the Vols have a relevant opponent late in the season. As it stands right now, the Vols have no real threat left on their 2015 schedule and no big games left to look forward to. Games against Oklahoma, Florida, Georgia, and Alabama are long gone, and all that remains are games against the dregs of the SEC. Same thing goes for the 2016 season, as South Carolina comes after Tennessee's stretch of games against Florida, Georgia, Texas A&M, and Alabama. If nothing else, having the Gamecocks as another true contender in the East gives Vol fans something to look forward to late in the season.

But sentimental reasons aside, does it really benefit the Vols to have South Carolina relevant? Even when they have been the past few seasons, Vol fans haven't been nearly as hyped up for the Gamecocks as other SEC opponents. Even in 2013 when South Carolina came in as a top 10 opponent and the Vols were coming off a bye week and their best performance of the season the previous week against Georgia, the game in Neyland Stadium wasn't a sellout. The attendance fell just short of 100,000 fans, and the atmosphere, while rowdy, wasn't a typical Neyland-type game. Rarely has South Carolina drawn consistently large crowds of Tennessee fans because the hatred in the rivalry just isn't that high.

Something did change that recently, however.

Since 2005, Vol fans had more incentive to hate the Gamecocks because the Ol' Ball Coach, Steve Spurrier, was at the helm at South Carolina. There are few head coaches Vol fans hated more than Spurrier, and when he won his debut game against the Vols while at South Carolina in 2005, the tone of the rivalry changed. But now that Spurrier is gone after his resignation a few weeks ago, a lot of the luster in this game has disappeared.

Historically the Vols have owned South Carolina. Tennessee had a 12-game winning streak over the Gamecocks before Spurrier and company won the 2005 contest. The Vols hold a 24-7 overall series record against South Carolina, and five of those Gamecock wins have come in the last decade. A big part of the reason South Carolina was able to rise to relevancy and turn the tide against Tennessee was because of the Vols' decline. When Tennessee fell off, South Carolina filled that void in the SEC East. Now that the Vols are finally on the upswing, South Carolina appears to be falling back down.

Having South Carolina down not only benefits Tennessee in their win/loss record every season, but it helps in recruiting too. When the Gamecocks found traction and were winning consistently, they were able to keep more talent from the Carolinas closer to home and pluck some key recruits from other places like Georgia and Florida. All of those areas are key recruiting grounds for the Vols, and having South Carolina fall back to an SEC bottom feeder benefits Tennessee immensely in recruiting.

Would it be great if the Vols had something to look forward to in the second half of the season in regards to a rivalry game? Sure. But having South Carolina relevant the last few seasons has been more of a pain than Tennessee fans have wanted, both on and off the field. The Vols don't need another powerful rival to go along with the trio of Florida, Georgia, and Alabama. And they certainly don't need more recruiting competition.

The Vols should want South Carolina to go back to the bottom of the SEC. And they can help the Gamecocks back there with a blowout win on Saturday.