USC vs. Southern Miss – Thursday
The Gamecocks didn’t receive any favors when North Carolina bailed out on USC to play LSU in Atlanta. ESPN officials helped USC land Southern Miss as a replacement, arguably a tougher opening-game draw for the Gamecocks than N.C. State the past two seasons.
The Golden Eagles were picked by most preseason magazines to win their division in Conference USA, and coach Larry Fedora has talked about surprising the Gamecocks on national TV. But unless Southern Miss improves defensively (25.8 points and 261 passing yards per game in 2009), USC will win its 11th consecutive opener.
Prediction: USC 24, Southern Miss 13
USC vs. Georgia – Sept. 11
The early matchup with the Bulldogs usually is a good gauge for USC. The Gamecocks had a chance to win in Athens last year, rolling up 427 yards on a night when quarterback Stephen Garcia attempted 53 passes. But Garcia’s final throw was knocked down in the end zone, allowing Georgia to hold on for a 41-37 victory.
Georgia’s defense should be better under first-year coordinator Todd Grantham, the former Dallas Cowboys assistant who installed a 3-4 scheme. And though the Bulldogs return 10 offensive starters, the lone newcomer — quarterback Aaron Murray — will be making his first SEC start in a hostile stadium. In a high-noon matchup, Garcia gets his gunslinger’s revenge.
Prediction: USC 27, Georgia 20
USC vs. Furman – Sept. 18
USC went a long time without scheduling Furman after the Paladins upset the Gamecocks 28-23 in 1982. Steve Spurrier’s squad has much more talent than its Southern Conference adversary, although Wofford has hung with the Gamecocks because of its triple-option offense.
Furman has no such gimmicks, and it has a new starting quarterback in UCLA transfer Chris Forcier. Barring turnovers, USC should build a big lead and give plenty of backups a chance to play.
Prediction: USC 38, Furman 10