Josh Kendall

Kendall’s pick: USC has big opportunity, big obstacle Saturday against Georgia

At the moment, there can be some debate about Will Muschamp’s best win as South Carolina’s coach.

It could be this year’s season-opener against an N.C. State team that has lost only once more this season.

It could be last year’s upset of Tennessee, which sparked a second-half turnaround and rallied the team around quarterback Jake Bentley.

If the Gamecocks beat Georgia on Saturday, there won’t be any more debate. The Bulldogs are ranked No. 1 in the CFB Playoff standings, No. 2 in the AP poll and are undefeated at 8-0 overall and 5-0 in the SEC. They have beaten their five conference opponents by an average of 32 points.

Georgia would be the second-highest ranked team the Gamecocks have defeated under any coach, falling behind only the 2010 win over then-No. 1 Alabama. In short, it won’t be an easy task for Muschamp and the Gamecocks.

The Bulldogs run well (second in the SEC) and defend the run well (second in the SEC). In a conference where everyone else has been trying to clone Nick Saban’s Alabama program for years now, Georgia and former Saban defensive coordinator Kirby Smart have come the closest so far. The Bulldogs trail only Alabama in the above two categories.

Hiring a former Saban assistant is, of course, a thing in the SEC. Muschamp also was a Saban defensive coordinator. Former Florida head coach Jim McElwain was a Saban offensive coordinator, etc.

South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley wonders whether there might be some value for the Gamecocks in that comparison.

“The good thing is coach Muschamp and coach Smart both learned from coach Saban, so there are a lot of similarities in what they do as far as our defense,” Bentley said. “Coach Smart does a great job of mixing it up. He understands offenses just as much as other offensive coordinators do, so he knows how to attack offenses and confuse quarterbacks. You really have to be very meticulous in film work to get a grasp on what he does.”

The Gamecocks will have to be meticulous and more to get a victory on Saturday. The Bulldogs are 24-point favorites, and South Carolina is 8-28 all-time in Athens.

So, the good news is a win will make for an easy answer to the Muschamp “best win” question. The bad news, for Gamecocks fans, is that it’s not likely.

Prediction: Georgia 34, South Carolina 17

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