Will the South Carolina Gamecocks win 11 games for the third consecutive year?
Even though USC has to find some answers on offense, there’s no reason to think otherwise. After all, the Gamecocks return five starters from a unit that finished third nationally in total defense last season, including Jadeveon Clowney, who’s arguably the best player in the country.
However, if Carolina fails to post double digits wins this season, it will be because of the Gamecocks’ brutal schedule.
A closer look at the USC docket will bear this out.
Unlike most other AQ programs, South Carolina chose to challenge itself during the non-conference portion of its schedule. The Gamecocks open the season against the North Carolina Tar Heels, who averaged over 40 points per game last year. USC also plays the Central Florida Knights (10-4 a year ago) and concludes the season against the Clemson Tigers, which finished in the top ten a year ago after defeating the LSU Tigers in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl.
Surprisingly, the SEC portion of Carolina’s schedule is easier than it’s been in years past. After all, the Gamecocks have nine days to prepare for the Georgia Bulldogs, and a full two weeks of practice to get ready for the Florida Gators. The month of October also sets up nicely as USC faces the Kentucky Wildcats, Arkansas Razorbacks, Tennessee Volunteers and Missouri Tigers, all of whom failed to post a winning record last season.
That leaves only the Vanderbilt Commodores and Mississippi State Bulldogs to worry about. While both of these teams won eight or more games a year ago, it’s worth noting that South Carolina has lost just one game within the friendly confines of Williams-Brice Stadium in the past two seasons.
The bottom line: how USC fares during its first three games will set the tone for the entire season. Should the Gamecocks stumble out of the gate, they’ll have a tough time hitting double digit wins for the third straight season.
On the other hand, if Carolina escapes this tough stretch unblemished, it’s only two rivalry game wins away from playing for all the marbles.