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Playing favorites: Forecasting USC's season

South Carolina's Chris Smelley is knocked out of bounds last season by Vanderbilt's Jonathan Goff.
South Carolina's Chris Smelley is knocked out of bounds last season by Vanderbilt's Jonathan Goff.

Will be favored

-- vs. N.C. State, Aug. 28 | This isn’t your typical warm-up game, but it could end up being the perfect opener. N.C. State is well-coached by Tom O’Brien, who is starting his second season in Raleigh. But the Wolfpacks have just 10 returning starters from a team that went 5-7 last season.

-- at Vanderbilt, Sept. 4 | Playing in Nashville has become tricky, and this second consecutive Thursday night game could be played in front of an energized crowd. But USC is 8-1 at Vanderbilt, and this year’s Commodores are rebuilding.

-- vs. Wofford, Sept. 20 | Welcome to the annual small-school headache game. Steve Spurrier only needs to show film of the game against Wofford two years ago, when USC escaped with a 27-20 win, to provide motivation. The Terriers still employ their wacky ball-control offense. Left, Wofford football coach Mike Ayers.

-- vs. Alabama-Birmingham, Sept. 27 | UAB coach Neil Callaway is well acquainted with the Gamecocks and the SEC. The Gamecocks better be ready – despite a 2-10 record last season, the Blazers hung in there with FSU and Mississippi State.

-- at Kentucky, Oct. 11 | Kentucky is in for a rebuilding season, especially on offense. Rich Brooks is a good coach, and by October the Wildcats could be playing well. But on paper, the Gamecocks have the advantage.

-- vs. Arkansas, Nov. 8 | Arkansas might be in for a down season, with only 11 starters back, and none of them named Darren McFadden or Felix Jones. But new coach Bobby Petrino could have his offense cooking at this point in the season.


will be underdog

-- vs. Georgia, Sept. 13 | A national title contender, Georgia features Matt Stafford, a third year starting quarterback, and Knowshon Moreno, one of the nation’s most exciting players.

-- vs. LSU, Oct. 18 | Spurrier might love riling Georgia, but the belief here is he might prefer to spring an upset on LSU. Remember his sparring with LSU coach Les Miles? Remember the fake field goal the Tigers pulled off?

-- at Florida, Nov. 15 | You might have heard of this guy named Tim Tebow. He won the Heisman as a sophomore and still is playing for Florida. This is terrible news for the USC defense. But is Spurrier due to win in Gainesville?

-- at Clemson, Nov. 29 | Clemson starts the season ranked in the top 10. By Thanksgiving, everything in the Palmetto State might have changed, though. Maybe Willy Korn will be struggling as the Tigers’ quarterback, C.J. Spiller will be concentrating on track and USC will be rolling.

toss ups

-- at Mississippi, Oct. 4 | Former USC defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix now has the same position at Ole Miss, where he and new coach Houston Nutt are hoping to capitalize on former coach Ed Orgeron’s highly rated recruiting classes. Much is going to depend on whether Nutt has found a quarterback.

-- vs. Tennessee, Nov. 1 | This is where it gets difficult to predict games several months out. By November, will Tennessee’s quarterback situation be set? The Volunteers have 14 starters returning from a 10-4 team, but this game is in Columbia, so it seems the definition of a pick-’em.