By Bryan Zarpentine @BZarp on August 12, 2014
The South Carolina football program has made great strides under Steve Spurrier, but the Gamecocks have made just one appearance in the SEC Title Game, which came in 2010. Expectations for South Carolina are as high as they’ve ever been, and the fanbase is expecting a return to the SEC Championship Game. Here is a closer look at the schedule the Gamecocks will face in order to get there.
The Gamecocks and Aggies will play the first ever game to be broadcast by the SEC Network, and they'll also play the first marquee game of the college football season on Thursday night the opening weekend. The Aggies will be bit of a mystery in their first post-Johnny Manziel game, but they have plenty of talent on the field to challenge the Gamecocks, who have a few key players to replace themselves.
East Carolina has more than enough talent to give the Gamecocks problems after the Pirates won 10 games last year. Senior quarterback Shane Carden connected on 70 percent of his passes and 33 touchdowns, so South Carolina better be able to put some pressure on him and disrupt his rhythm. This is a game the Gamecocks should win, but if they're not at their best, they'll be fighting for 60 minutes to come out on top.
This game will be a tone setter for the SEC East, and the winner will have the inside track for a spot in the conference championship game, so this is a must-win game for both teams. The talent level on both teams is high, so this should be a fourth quarter game that comes down to either team making a big play or a big mistake. The Gamecocks are hopeful that home-field advantage will be enough to lift them to victory in such a critical game.
This isn't the same old Vanderbilt, so this won't necessarily be an easy win for the Gamecocks. The Commodores have the talent to keep up with top SEC teams, which could make this a tricky game for South Carolina as they hit the road for the first time in 2014.
This will be a rematch of one of the most exciting games from last year, and even though that loss didn't keep the Tigers from the SEC Title Game, they'll still be looking for revenge. Of course, the jury is still out on whether Missouri can sustain its success in the SEC, but they should be a team that can compete with the Gamecocks. South Carolina needs to be ready.
On paper, this should be an easy one for South Carolina, but the Gamecocks only beat Kentucky by seven points last year after the Wildcats attempted a fourth quarter comeback. Kentucky is a year older this season, and they'll be bringing their best effort against the top teams in the SEC, especially when they're at home, which could make this game tougher for South Carolina than it looks on paper.
The Gamecocks will get a bye six weeks into the season, and then they'll get a second bye against FCS opponent Furman. If South Carolina is suffering through injuries, this game will come at a perfect time, as their schedule will start to intensify after the Gamecocks get this easy win.
The SEC didn't do the Gamecocks any favors by giving them a crossover game against the defending conference champions. If the SEC East race is tight in the second half of the season or South Carolina loses a conference game early on, this won't be a game the Gamecocks can afford to lose. Steve Spurrier is known for his innovative offense, but he'll have to figure out a defensive game plan to slow down Auburn's run game.
The Gamecocks lost to Tennessee last season, and it cost them a trip to the SEC Title Game. South Carolina will be looking for redemption, but they'll also need to win this game to make it to this year's conference championship game. The Vols should be better than last year, but with last season's loss, the Gamecocks won't be taking them lightly.
The stakes of this game will depend on whether or not Florida can bounce back from last season. South Carolina should still be alive for a spot in the SEC Title Game, and if the Gators are as well, this will be a critical game for the Gamecocks in tough road environment. Of course, if Florida has another down year, the Gators may just roll over against South Carolina, who will be looking to put another nail in Will Muschamp's coaching coffin.
South Alabama is no longer an FCS opponent, but talent-wise they're still a far cry from South Carolina. With the SEC schedule behind them, the Gamecocks should be able to take a breather in this game and rest up for the season finale and a possible spot in the SEC Title Game.
If the Gamecocks are heading to the SEC Title Game, it's perfectly acceptable for them to look ahead and lose focus against Clemson. Otherwise, South Carolina may have to salvage their season by beating their in-state rivals. All things being equal, South Carolina is probably the more talented team, but playing on the road in a rivalry game could level the playing field and make this one of the more compelling games of the season.
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