Gamecocks’ football schedule gets tougher in 2014

nwhite@thestate.comJanuary 8, 2014 

South Carolina Gamecocks running back Mike Davis (28)

GERRY MELENDEZ — gmelendez@thestate.com

The next college football season is eight months away, but for South Carolina, which just completed its third consecutive 11-win season and top-10 finish, it’s never too soon to look ahead.

Here are the potential challenges that await the Gamecocks in the 2014 season, including games against SEC West teams Texas A&M and Auburn. USC’s opponents had a combined record of 96-59 this past season.

Aug. 28: Texas A&M (9-4)

USC’s first meeting with the Aggies will be a Thursday night opener once again for the Gamecocks, who are coming off a school-best No. 4 ranking in the national polls, in what will be their first meeting with the Aggies. While there will be no Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M could provide a threat to halt USC’s 18-game home winning streak at Williams-Brice Stadium, currently the nation’s longest.

Sept. 6: East Carolina (10-3)

The Pirates are coming off their second 10-win season after a Beef O’ Brady Bowl victory, and they return record-setting quarterback Shane Carden and wide receiver Justin Hardy. The Gamecocks defeated ECU handily in 2011 and 2012, but the Pirates actually won five of eight meetings during the 1990s. Needless to say, this is a new era of USC football.

Sept. 13: Georgia (8-5)

This game always seems to set the tone in the SEC East, but both teams will feature a new look without quarterbacks Connor Shaw or Aaron Murray for the Bulldogs and no Connor Shaw taking USC’s snaps. Georgia snapped a three-game losing streak to USC last season in Athens, but the injury-riddled Bulldogs stumbled down the stretch. Tailbacks Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall should be back to lead the offense.

Sept. 20: at Vanderbilt (9-4)

Another bowl-winning team awaits the Gamecocks in their first road game. Coach James Franklin, whose name keeps circulating in college and NFL job searches, has taken the Commodores to new heights in his three seasons, which has included a school-record three consecutives bowl trips and back-to-back nine-win seasons. However, Franklin has yet to lead his team to a win over USC.

Sept. 27: Missouri (12-2)

The defending SEC East champions will hope to avenge their loss last season in the other Columbia, where USC rallied from a 17-point deficit for a double-overtime victory and one of the best wins in school history. Both teams finished in the nation’s Top 5. It might be hard to match last season’s drama, but the Tigers return quarterback Maty Mauk and receiver Dorial Green-Beckham.

Oct. 4: at Kentucky (2-10)

This game looks like a win. Of course, it always appears that way. The Gamecocks have won 13 of the past 14 meetings, with the loss coming in Lexington in 2010. The Wildcats didn’t win a game in the SEC last season. But they do return a pair of good defensive ends in Alvin “Bud” Dupree and Za’Darius Smith.

Oct. 18: Furman (8-6)

The Paladins won a share of the Southern Conference championship, reached the second round of the FCS playoffs, and finished the season at No. 21 in the coaches poll. Still, FCS teams aren’t supposed to beat FBS teams. Furman lost to USC 38-19 in 2010, the only meeting between the two since the Paladins pulled off a stunning upset back in 1982.They return 13 starters from 2013.

Oct. 25: at Auburn (12-2)

The Tigers reached the national championship game before losing a heartbreaker to Florida State. That makes it easy to predict that the Gamecocks will have their hands full when they travel to Jordan-Hare Stadium. Of course, they’ve also lost seven straight games – two of them in 2010 – to the Tigers dating back to their lone win in the series in 1933. Quarterback Nick Marshall returns.

Nov. 1: Tennessee (5-7)

Despite another down season, the Volunteers beat the Gamecocks. The 23-21 road loss haunted USC fans and likely kept their team from reaching a BCS bowl. But this matchup will be at Williams-Brice Stadium, where the Gamecocks have defeated Tennessee three consecutive times.

Nov. 15: at Florida (4-8)

Steve Spurrier returns to The Swamp one more time in his storied career, including 12 seasons leading the Gators.The days when Florida ruled the SEC East have vanished. The Gators had an injury-plagued season, losing their final seven games. Coach Will Muschamp’s seat heading into 2014 might be as warm as any in college football. Spurrier’s 2010 team clinched the division title there. He would love a repeat.

Nov. 22: South Alabama (6-6)

The Jaguars, who compete in the Sun Belt Conference, will be beginning their sixth season of football. Former Alabama receiver Joey Jones leads the program, which won its final three games — against Louisiana-Monroe, Georgia State and Louisiana-Lafayette — last season.

Nov. 29: at Clemson (11-2)

After five consecutive wins against their rivals, the Gamecocks will head to Death Valley to face a team that no longer has stalwarts Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins. Those all-time Clemson greats never could find a way to beat USC, which has won the past handful of meetings by an average score of 31-14. There’s little doubt that Steve Spurrier and Dabo Swinney will keep the jabs coming as the teams meet for the 112th time.

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