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South Carolina-LSU the first of several elimination games

South Carolinis built around running back Marcus Lattimore defense that’s allowing 10.5 points per game. | Brett Flashnick~AP

South Carolina is built around running back Marcus Lattimore and a defense that’s allowing 10.5 points per game. | Brett Flashnick~AP

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Updated: November 13, 2012 6:11AM

Nothing is going to stop college football’s march toward a playoff, and that’s not a bad thing. The four-team playoff that begins in 2014 addresses a lot of issues, and don’t be surprised if an eight-team tournament isn’t far behind.

Until then, South Carolina’s trip to LSU on Saturday is a great example of why purists like college football the way it is.

For the No. 9 Tigers, the meeting with the No. 3 Gamecocks is an elimination game. A loss here, and their goal of a third national championship in 10 years is gone.

‘‘We’ve got to win,’’ LSU junior linebacker Kevin Minter said. ‘‘We can’t lose any more games, or our national-championship hopes are gone. We’ve got to buckle down and get to it. If we win this game, it gives us a little momentum going into the rest of the season.’’

LSU’s 14-6 loss at Florida on Saturday was the Tigers’ first regular-season setback since 2010. A second loss would be a crusher for a program that has gone 24-3 the last two seasons and hasn’t lost back-to-back games since its last two regular-season games in 2008.

‘‘For the first time in a year and a half, we are talking about a regular-season loss,’’ Tigers coach Les Miles said, ‘‘and it is miserable for us. The good news is that our football team has always really responded personally.’’

South Carolina also is in an unusual position. An impressive 35-7 throttling of No. 5 Georgia gave the Gamecocks their first 6-0 start since 1984. Under Steve Spurrier, South Carolina is hungry for more.

‘‘We definitely sent a message out to the whole country,’’ Gamecocks running back Marcus Lattimore said after the win Saturday. ‘‘This is not the old South Carolina. We can play with ya’ll. We can play with anybody. We’ve just got to keep our focus and do what we’ve been doing.’’

It’s a strange concoction for Spurrier. The Ol’ Ball Coach, who built some great passing offenses at Florida, has a team that relies on defense — it’s allowing 10.5 points per game, fourth in the nation — and the rushing of Lattimore.

For all of LSU’s athleticism, it remains offensively challenged. The Tigers, who squeaked past Auburn 12-10, have scored one touchdown in eight quarters of SEC play this season.

LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger, who already has been sacked 15 times, will need help to stay out of the clutches of South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who is second in the SEC with 61/2 sacks.

This isn’t just a pivotal game in the SEC, which once again is the nation’s top conference by a wide margin. It has a role on the national landscape.

With SEC teams trying to take each other down, No. 5 West Virginia playing host to No. 6 Kansas State on Oct. 20 and No. 2 Oregon needing to handle a trio of ranked Pac-12 teams, the regular season remains loaded with potential elimination games.

Also lurking in the national-championship picture is No. 7 Notre Dame. If the Irish take care of their business while the SEC and other leagues are knee-capping each other, ND could have a shot.

That’s why, even though a playoff is necessary progress, college football’s two-team selection process has its intrigue. Games such as South Carolina-LSU matter in places such as South Bend, Ind., and Morgantown, W.Va., as well as Columbia, S.C., and Baton Rouge, La.

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