Will Muschamp’s first two years saw jumps of three more wins each year. The 2018 campaign opened with visions of nine or 10 wins in the regular season, but a potentially light schedule turned difficult.
The Gamecocks go into the coming season with the top three preseason teams on their slate, plus two other opponents in the top-15 to top-10 range and one that could find itself in the top 25. That’s put a damper on some expectations and puts Muschamp in a delicate position in his fourth seasons.
A few ways this might go:
1. Playing to form
At the moment, South Carolina has five games that appear to be tall tasks, the set of Clemson, Alabama, Texas A&M, Florida and Georgia, a sure thing in Charleston Southern, three likely wins in UNC, Appalachian State and maybe Vanderbilt and three projected toss-ups in Missouri, Kentucky and Tennessee. If the Gamecocks can’t take down any of the big ones, and win enough of the toss-ups to reach six or seven wins, they’ll have about achieved what’s expected.
What to watch here: The two-week stretch of at Missouri and Kentucky at home. A sweep would go a long way, while 0-for-2 puts bowl hopes on life support.
2. Notching a big pelt
The goal is to always overachieve, and Texas A&M and Florida provide the most tantalizing ways to do that. Both took big steps forward in the first year with new coaches and both games were right there for the taking for the Gamecocks last season. If USC can get to eight wins by notching a victory against one of those two (or by upending one of the preseason top 3), it would be a good mark for the current coaching staff. If the team gets to 9-3 by any manner, Muschamp is all but a shoo-in for coach of the year.
What to watch here: USC will have played six games before getting Florida in Columbia. The A&M game will be one last chance, two weeks before Clemson.
3. The wrong end of the toss-up ladder
UNC is a total wildcard. App State won 11 games last year. Missouri was pretty impressive in 2018 and imports a seasoned QB in Kelly Bryant. Vandy quietly had a productive offense and returns its top runner. Kentucky has been a problem, while Tennessee is only getting more talented and pushed the Gamecocks last year in Williams-Brice. That’s six games with decent potential to get hairy. If enough turn bad, a bowl spot could slip away.
What to watch here: The UNC game might be an indicator if things start going sideways early. Survive that, and then Kentucky and Mizzou loom large.
SOUTH CAROLINA 2019 SCHEDULE
Aug. 31 — North Carolina (2-9 last season)* 3:30 p.m., ESPN
Sept. 7 — Charleston Southern (5-6) noon, SEC Network
Sept. 14 — Alabama (14-1) 3:30 pm, CBS
Sept. 21 — at Missouri (8-5)
Sept. 28 — Kentucky (10-3)
Oct. 12 — at Georgia (11-3)
Oct. 19 — Florida (10-3)
Oct. 26 — at Tennessee (5-7)
Nov. 2 — Vanderbilt (6-7)
Nov. 9 — Appalachian State (11-2)
Nov. 16 — at Texas A&M (9-4)
Nov. 30 — Clemson (15-0)