Josh Kendall

Can Gamecocks take advantage of SEC coaching chaos?

South Carolina’s football team hasn’t been in the news much this week, which is a good thing considering the week some of its counterparts have had.

Three of the Gamecocks’ 2018 opponents have made or are in the process of making coaching changes. A fourth just settled on keeping its interim coach with what are expected to be significant NCAA sanctions looming. It makes the speculation about the future of South Carolina offensive coordinator Kurt Roper seem like relative stability in contrast, and it provides an opportunity for the Gamecocks.

The challenge for South Carolina (8-4) now is to take advantage of however long it takes Tennessee, Florida, Texas A&M and, to a much lesser degree Ole Miss, to recover from their current challenges. Life in the SEC East is a zero sum game. For every team that’s up, there’s another that must be down. For years after entering the division, the Gamecocks were down, unable to break into the top half of the division because of the stranglehold of the Big Three – Florida, Tennessee and Georgia.

While the Bulldogs seem to be on solid footing as they prepare for the SEC Championship Game on Saturday, the Gators and Volunteers have problems.

Let’s start with Tennessee. It’s in the middle of what many are calling the worst coaching search in the history of coaching searches. The Volunteers are in danger of setting their program way back after agreeing to a deal with Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano and then revoking that deal after public and social media outcry from Tennessee fans and, in some cases, politicians. It’s a major egg-on-the-face moment for a program that once was consistently ahead of South Carolina in the division. Unless the Vols bounce back in a major way, look for the Gamecocks to extend what already is a two-game winning streak against Tennessee.

Florida hasn’t taken the hit that the Volunteers have in the coaching-change process, but the Gators missed on their first choice when Chip Kelly took the UCLA job, and this week they named Mississippi State head coach and former Gators assistant Dan Mullen the new boss. It’s not a home run hire, but Mullen has proven that he can be a consistent winner at one of the hardest places in the SEC to win, and there’s every reason to believe he will do a very good job for the Gators. Still, it will take a while for Mullen to transition Florida’s personnel to fit his power spread running attack, which gives the Gamecocks a chance to build up some cushion on the Gators.

At Texas A&M, South Carolina’s yearly SEC West opponent, the Aggies have decided they’re willing to risk good to be great, firing Kevin Sumlin and hoping for the moment they can lure Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher to College Station, Texas. South Carolina fans are just as happy to see Sumlin gone as he was 4-0 in his career against the Gamecocks. The Aggies have plenty of talent, and Fisher has proven he can win at a high level, but if Fisher passes on the job, Texas A&M’s fallback positions don’t look nearly as strong.

It probably wouldn’t have mattered who Ole Miss hired thanks to the severity of the sanctions it is expected to receive from the NCAA, and that could be one reason it decided to simply remove the interim tag from head coach Matt Luke’s title rather than try to make a splash in the hiring market. Luke did a decent job in tough circumstances this year but nobody’s got much of a chance to win there for a while. That’s a lesser concern for South Carolina, though, because next year’s Nov. 3 game in Oxford, Miss., is the last time the Gamecocks will play the Rebels until 2025.

The Gamecocks aren’t in the SEC Championship Game, but at least they aren’t in the news this week for the wrong reasons.