Josh Kendall

In Muschamp Year 2, predicting USC’s 2017 season game by game

The best part of August for college football fans is trying to figure out how September, October, November (and maybe even December) are going to go, so here’s my best guess at how things will go.

If this proves spot on, South Carolina will finish the regular season at 6-6, the exact same mark as last year, but do it in the opposite fashion, starting 4-2 and then finishing 2-4.

It also would mean the Gamecocks would average 33.2 points per game, which would rank around fifth in the SEC, and give up 26.1 points per game, which would give head coach Will Muschamp ulcers.

South Carolina vs. N.C. State

Sept. 2, Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, N.C.

This is normally exactly the type of opponent the Gamecocks should be opening up the season with – a traditionally middle-of-the-pack ACC team that provides an exciting opener along with a good chance of winning. The problem is that N.C. State figures to be on a peak at that moment ... and has that defensive line. The Wolfpack will start four seniors on the defensive front, including All-ACC end Bradley Chubb. As a group, this unit allowed 3.3 yards per carry last year, and Chubb himself had 10.5 sacks. In short, N.C. State’s biggest strength will be pitted against the Gamecock offense’s biggest question marks: pass protection and run game. That makes for a tough way to start a season and tough way to win a game.

Prediction: N.C. State 27, South Carolina 20

South Carolina at Missouri

Sept. 9, Faurot Field, Columbia, Mo.

After opening with one of the best opposing defenses on the schedule, the Gamecocks will move on to one of the best offenses they figure to see all year. Junior Tigers quarterback Drew Lock is turning into the player most people expected him to be when he was recruited, and he’s got a lot of good pass catchers and running back Damarea Crockett. The good news for the Gamecocks is the Tigers defense wasn’t good last year and doesn’t figure to be any better this year. If this game was in Columbia, S.C., it probably would be safe to count the victory. On the road, it will be close.

Prediction: South Carolina 37, Missouri 34

South Carolina vs. Kentucky

Sept. 16, Williams-Brice Stadium

This is a fitting third game of the season. The Gamecocks’ three-game losing streak against the Wildcats stands as their biggest hurdle back to SEC respectability. The Wildcats haven’t outplayed South Carolina in each of those games, but Kentucky has found a way to win. The Gamecocks can change that by manufacturing pressure on Cats quarterback Stephen Johnson and not letting running back Benny Snell run wild. Kentucky won’t be terrible on defense, but South Carolina can score if it blocks the Cats’ defensive ends.

Prediction: South Carolina 34, Kentucky 28

South Carolina vs. Louisiana Tech

Sept. 23, Williams-Brice Stadium

When fans think about Louisiana Tech’s high-scoring offense, which has ranked in the top 20 in the nation each of the last three years, they think first of the passing game, but the Gamecocks’ biggest challenge probably will be stopping the run in this one. The Bulldogs are turning the quarterback position over to dual threat sophomore J’Mar Smith and have two solid running backs. Tech’s biggest challenge will be stopping anything, which it hasn’t done well under Skip Holtz.

Prediction: South Carolina 48, Louisiana Tech 17

South Carolina vs. Texas A&M

Sept. 30, Kyle Field, College Station, Texas

South Carolina, and everyone else, would rather be playing the Aggies late in the season, when head coach Kevin Sumlin’s team has wilted each of the last three seasons. Playing Texas A&M early in the year and on the road will be a tough task for the Gamecocks simply because of the number of playmakers they will have to face. The top threat is wide receiver/kick returner Christian Kirk, but freshman quarterback Kellen Mond also could be a problem by this point in the season.

Prediction: Texas A&M 28, South Carolina 27

South Carolina vs. Arkansas

Oct. 7, Williams-Brice Stadium

One week after facing the Aggies’ wide-open attack, the Gamecocks will have to switch gears to get ready for the oldest school attack left in the SEC – the Razorbacks’ two-back system. Arkansas is unexpectedly without last year’s top running back, Rawleigh Williams, because Williams had to retire in the offseason due to a neck injury. But head coach Bret Bielema still will be committed to running the ball, and South Carolina needs to prove this point in the season that it can do something about that.

Prediction: South Carolina 35, Arkansas 20

South Carolina vs. Tennessee

Oct. 14, Neyland Stadium, Knoxville, Tenn.

Last year, this was the turning point of the season as the Gamecocks upset a ranked Tennessee team in Williams-Brice Stadium to spark a strong finish, but the test will be much tougher this year in Neyland Stadium. South Carolina is 2-16 all-time in Knoxville, and Butch Jones’ team has recruited well enough across the board to probably hold onto one of the top three spots in the division this year. There’s also the matter of payback for a team that will be on a first-year starter at quarterback.

Prediction: Tennessee 27, South Carolina 24

South Carolina vs. Vanderbilt

Oct. 28, Williams-Brice Stadium

Despite all the Gamecocks’ struggles, they still own Vandy. South Carolina has won eight straight against the Commodores and hasn’t lost to Vanderbilt at home since 2007. Overall, the Gamecocks are 22-4 against the Dores, and that lopsidedness doesn’t figure to change much this year. Vanderbilt has quarterback Kyle Shurmur and running back Ralph Webb back on offense, but star linebacker Zach Cunningham is gone.

Prediction: South Carolina 37, Vanderbilt 20

South Carolina at Georgia

Nov. 4, Sanford Stadium, Athens, Ga.

The Gamecocks will be returning to Sanford Stadium for the first time since the embarrassing 2015 game that ended in a 52-20 loss. South Carolina is 8-28 all-time in Athens, and the Bulldogs are expected to be better than last year’s 8-5 team. However, Georgia has stumbled plenty when expectations were high, so South Carolina could catch a team still looking for an identity. The biggest factor in that will be the development of quarterback Jacob Eason. If he figures things out, Georgia will be tough to beat by this point in the season.

Georgia 38, South Carolina 30

South Carolina vs. Florida

Nov. 11, Williams-Brice Stadium

The Gators may be the biggest question mark in the SEC. Florida has won the SEC East in each of head coach Jim McElwain’s two seasons, but there is a concern in Gainesville that McElwain’s staff has not recruited well enough the last two years to fully overcome an exodus of talent to the NFL the last two seasons. McElwain was hired to get Florida’s offense going and he’ll have to this year with either Malik Zaire or Feleipe Franks at quarterback. The Gators won’t get by on their defense this year as they have the last two years.

Florida 31, South Carolina 30

South Carolina vs. Wofford

Nov. 18, Williams-Brice Stadium

Muschamp probably won’t complain publicly about this game when it arrives (he’s too fond of athletics director Ray Tanner for that), but he might privately. These type of non-conference games have been moved to late in the season so that Power 5 teams can get a breather before their season-ending rivalry game, but it doesn’t work that way when it’s Wofford on the schedule. In fact, because of the Terriers’ wishbone offense, this game might actually hurt the Gamecocks’ readiness for the next week against, well, you know.

Prediction: South Carolina 52, Wofford 20

South Carolina vs. Clemson

Nov. 25, Williams-Brice Stadium

This is going to be fun. The Gamecocks, and Muschamp specifically, still will be smarting from last year’s 56-7 drubbing at the hands of Dabo Swinney and the eventual national champion Tigers. Printouts with the score and the words “Never Again” quickly popped up throughout the Gamecocks’ football facility and it is hard to imagine such a distance between the rivals again now that Deshaun Watson is out of the Upstate and the Gamecocks’ roster is a little more solid. Still, this will be a tough out for South Carolina.

Prediction: Clemson 30, South Carolina 24

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