David Cloninger

How many USC games can go either way in 2016? A bunch

Never been one to predict each game in August. Way too much that can happen before the next game, much less one in November, to pick results.

I’ve always looked at a schedule and divided games into three groups – “definite wins,” “definite losses” and “flex,” the latter being games that could go either way. When looking at South Carolina’s 2016 slate, I see 0-1-11.

That’s zero definite wins, one definite loss (at Clemson) and 11 pick ’em.

There’s no way to gauge what this team is going to do. There are far too many questions at far too many crucial spots.

Offense may be playing two freshman quarterbacks for a majority of the year, and if not, a senior who’s a former walk-on. The QB can hand off to a redshirt freshman tailback or a fourth-year guy who spent some of camp having his work ethic and motivation questioned.

The starting wide receivers might be Deebo Samuel, who missed seven games last year, a true freshman coming off a knee injury in high school (Bryan Edwards) and Jamari Smith, who has never caught a pass and has changed positions as often as his socks.

Defense? Lot of veterans. That is, a lot of veterans who ranked next-to-last and last in the SEC the last two years and treated the middle of the field like it had rabies. The term “underneath slant” was ancient Greek to them.

You throw all that together with a new coach, new staff, new schemes, a whopping 52 freshmen or redshirt freshmen out of 117 and another eight who transferred in or are ineligible this year and you have … what?

A team with 12 games’ worth of who knows.

It could be Will Muschamp finds all his answers Thursday and the Gamecocks beat Vanderbilt, then go on to have a winning season and play in a bowl game. It could be that Muschamp has to mix and match his players throughout every quarter of the season, trying to find the perfect lineup on each side of the ball, and they never find consistency.

Many folks have pointed out to me that USC will get at least four wins, because it has East Carolina, Western Carolina and UMass at home and Vanderbilt on the road. I say The Citadel last year should have cured anybody who ever thinks any win is automatic with this program.

There’s no way of knowing if anything good that happens Thursday will continue to happen, or vice versa. I can’t see any definite wins, but I can’t see any definite losses outside of that one at the end.

(While I may change my mind later in the season, it looks as if USC will be playing its rival on the road when said rival just may again be the best team in the country. That one could make 63-17 look pleasant).

It all starts Thursday. Win that one, and there are five more wins on the schedule. Lose, and it’s like the Kentucky game last year – now you got to win one you weren’t planning on. Last year’s team never found that one, or many others.

The positive side is the Gamecocks can prove themselves so much better than predicted. If they go 6-6 or better, Will Muschamp ought to be considered for National Coach of the Year, considering what he inherited. And if they go worse than 6-6, well, what’d you expect considering what he inherited?

With USC plummeting to 3-9 just two years after finishing No. 4 in the country, there’s only one direction for the Gamecocks to go.

This season will at least tell us how long it will take to get there.

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