Josh Kendall

South Carolina’s season opener is big for this reason

Every week for gameday, Josh Kendall will write about the “big deal” in USC’s game.

South Carolina plays N.C. State on Saturday to kick off the 2017 football season, head coach Will Muschamp’s second in charge of the program. The Gamecocks were 6-7 in Muschamp’s first season at the helm.

The specifics of the game have been broken down all preseason long.

▪  How good can Gamecocks quarterback Jake Bentley be?

▪  Can South Carolina’s re-tooled offensive line keep Wolfpack defensive ends Bradley Chubb and Kentavius Street away from Bentley?

▪  Will USC’s thin defense be good or at least good enough?

Those are the questions that will determine how Saturday goes, but the season-opening game is big for this reason: The Gamecocks need confidence. This is still a team rising out of the 3-9 disaster of the 2015 season and a team with lots of important question marks on top of that.

N.C. State is not the typical opening opponent. The Wolfpack are not only a Power 5 team; they are a Power 5 team that is expected to be as good as it has been in last 10-to-15 years.

South Carolina’s program is at the point where it could probably use an opener against a Buffalo or a Texas State, but this is what the Gamecocks have got, and they need to make the most of it.

South Carolina started Muschamp’s first season 2-4 and finished 4-2. This team could flip-flop that order and end up in the exact same place as it finished last year because of the difficulty of the second half of the schedule.

Florida, Clemson and trips to Tennessee and Georgia lurk in the second half of South Carolina’s schedule, but the first half is manageable. Even with a loss to N.C. State, the Gamecocks could rebound to start the season 3-1. That would be a good start to Muschamp’s second season, but 4-0 would be even better.

An upset of the Wolfpack would keep that hope alive so what the matchup provides in risk, it provides the same in reward.

The Gamecocks need to get as much confidence and as many wins as they can before the closing stretch, and that’s the big deal about this game.

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