It may not be fair, but in a 14-team conference like the SEC, no two schedules are created equal. Inevitably, a team’s schedule will play a huge part in if they’re able to win their division and get to the conference championship game or not. After getting the short end of the stick the past two seasons, the South Carolina Gamecocks hope that in 2013 they’ll get some of the same advantages that helped the Georgia Bulldogs win the SEC East each of the past two seasons.
The Gamecocks will start with a non-conference schedule that’s a little tougher than they’d like it to be. They’ll start the season with a home game against the North Carolina Tar Heels, a team coming off an eight-win season that could be even better in their second season under Larry Fedora. The Tar Heels should also feel motivated to knock off their neighbors to the south in the much-maligned SEC. South Carolina will also have a road game against the Central Florida Knights, a 10-win team a year ago that has the kind of speed and athleticism that might be able to keep up with the Gamecocks. As usual, South Carolina concludes the season against the Clemson Tigers, who are expected to contend for a national title this year. Fortunately for South Carolina, they will get the Tigers at home this year, but it won’t be an easy way to finish the season after eight games in the SEC.
The SEC home schedule looks favorable for the Gamecocks in 2013. They should be able to handle the Vanderbilt Commodores, Kentucky Wildcats and Mississippi State Bulldogs at home, although they will have to take Vanderbilt and Mississippi State seriously. That leaves the Florida Gators, another contender in the SEC East, as their most important home conference game. If South Carolina expects to win the East, they’ll have to hold serve at home against the Gators, but if the Gamecocks can win that game, they should have no problem sweeping their home conference schedule this year.
In October, South Carolina will have to go on the road for three consecutive weeks, with games against the Tennessee Volunteers, Arkansas Razorbacks and Missouri Tigers. The Gamecocks will be considerable favorites in all three of those games, even on the road, but their toughest road test will come early in the year against Georgia. South Carolina has won early-season games against Georgia the past two seasons, which have set the tone for the East division, but the Bulldogs have managed to come back and overtake the Gamecocks for the division title both times. Once again, South Carolina’s game against Georgia will have great importance early in the season, and will be a tough road test for the Gamecocks.
Overall, the Gamecocks have a manageable schedule in front of them in 2013. Three straight road games in October, a road date in September against Georgia and three quality opponents on their non-conference schedule will make things tough on them. However, they will play Florida at home, they avoid playing any of the elite teams in the West Division and the Gamecocks will be at home the entire month of November, all of which are big advantages. Nothing ever comes easy in the SEC, but in 2013, South Carolina has a schedule that will be more helpful than it will be hurtful, which will give them a fair shot to get back to the SEC Championship game for the first time since 2010.