Josh Kendall

USC's 2018 football schedule features tough tests, but also good opportunities

South Carolina's football team has the 46th-toughest schedule in the nation, according to ESPN's Football Power Index. Today, we'll take a look at each game, and South Carolina's prospects for it. (Game times are set for the first three weeks of the season.)

Sept. 1, vs. Coastal Carolina (noon, SEC Network)

About the Chanticleers: Coach Joe Moglia, the 2015 FCS coach of the year, returns this fall after missing the 2017 season because of a medical issue. Coastal needs him. It finished 3-9 last year, and the defense gave up more than 34 points per game.

Gamecocks prospects: South Carolina beat the Chants 70-10 in 2013, which was Coastal’s only other appearance in Williams-Brice Stadium. A similar score would be a good start for Bryan McClendon’s offense.

Sept. 8, vs. Georgia (3:30 pm, CBS)

About the Bulldogs: Georgia won the SEC and played in the national championship game last year. The Bulldogs must replace running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel but still have quarterback Jake Fromm and added five-star QB recruit Justin Fields. Linebacker Roquan Smith, a first-round NFL draft pick, also is gone.

Gamecocks prospects: South Carolina is happy to have this game back at the front of the schedule, when, theoretically, the Bulldogs could be torn between two quarterbacks and still getting comfortable without some of last year’s stars. Still, this will be one of the toughest tests on the entire slate.

Sept. 15, vs. Marshall (7:30 p.m., ESPN)

About the Thundering Herd: Marshall should have been led into this game by senior quarterback Chase Litton, who is fifth in school history in passing yards. Instead, Litton skipped his senior season to enter the NFL draft, where he went undrafted. That’s a big blow to a team that went 8-5 and beat Colorado State in a bowl game last year.

Gamecocks prospects: Marshall finished 17th in the nation in total defense last year, so this won’t be a blowout, but it should be a nice resting spot between the Bulldogs and the first road trip of the year.

Sept. 22, at Vanderbilt

About the Commodores: Coach Derek Mason’s seat is getting warm in Nashville. Vanderbilt was 1-7 in the SEC last year and finished No. 88 in the nation in total defense, which is Mason’s area of expertise. Mason is 6-26 in league games in four seasons.

Gamecocks prospects: South Carolina is riding an eight-game winning streak against the Commodores, and it won’t end this year. This is the first in a two-game road stretch for USC.

Sept. 29, at Kentucky

About the Wildcats: Running back Benny Snell and linebacker Josh Allen are the bright spots for Kentucky, but about the only ones. The Wildcats, who were 4-4 in the SEC last year, will be replacing quarterback Stephen Johnson.

Gamecocks prospects: Inexplicably, South Carolina has lost four in a row to the Wildcats. It’s Kentucky’s longest winning streak in the SEC, and if it doesn’t end this year, Gamecocks fans might go crazy.

Oct. 6, vs. Missouri

About the Tigers: Quarterback Drew Lock is back and could have the best statistical season of any SEC quarterback this year. However, no one knows what new offensive coordinator Derek Dooley’s offense will look like. Dooley, the former Tennessee head coach, has never coordinated a unit.

Gamecocks prospects: Lock’s talent make this a dangerous game, but it’s one South Carolina should win, especially at home. USC is 4-2 against the Tigers since Missouri joined the SEC. This begins another three-game stretch at Williams-Brice.

Oct. 13, vs. Texas A&M

About the Aggies: First-year coach Jimbo Fisher, a longtime friend of South Carolina coach Will Muschamp, leads probably the biggest question mark on the schedule. The Aggies have talent but must transition from former coach Kevin Sumlin to Fisher’s offensive system.

Gamecocks prospects: South Carolina has never beaten the Aggies. They are 0-4 all-time, with all those meetings coming since Texas A&M joined the conference. This is South Carolina’s best chance in any of those meetings.

Oct. 27, vs. Tennessee

About the Volunteers: Another opponent with a new head coach, the Volunteers will be led by Jeremy Pruitt, like Muschamp a former Nick Saban defensive coordinator. It will take Pruitt a while to dig Tennessee out of the hole it has dug for itself in recent years.

Gamecocks prospects: It’s critical for South Carolina to take advantage of this time that one of the SEC East’s traditional powers is struggling. A win this year would give the Gamecocks just their second three-game winning streak against UT.

Nov. 3, at Ole Miss

About the Rebels: Coach Matt Luke had his interim tag removed in the offseason, and he may have the most underrated quarterback in the conference in Jordan Ta’amu, a junior college transfer who completed 67 percent of his passes and had a 164.5 efficiency after replacing Shea Patterson last year.

Gamecocks prospects: This will be South Carolina’s first trip to Oxford since 2008. Overall, the Gamecocks are 2-3 in games at Ole Miss, and this game should even that mark at 3-3.

Nov. 10, at Florida

About the Gators: Another first-year head coach pops up on the schedule in Dan Mullen, who jumped from Mississippi State to Florida. Mullen has a proven track record in the SEC and probably will have had enough time by this point in the season to find a quarterback and get the Gators comfortable in his spread offense.

Gamecocks prospects: Like the Tennessee game, this game has symbolic implications as well. South Carolina needs to beat Florida to cement itself as the second-best team in its division, while the Gators and Vols are in transition.

Nov. 17, vs. Chattanooga

About the Mocs: Chattanooga finished 3-8 in coach Tom Arth’s first season. That’s quite a fall for a team used to being in the FCS playoffs. The Mocs return 15 starters, including quarterback Cole Copeland.

Gamecocks prospects: Clearly a must-win, this game is positioned to give South Carolina a tune-up for the season finale against Clemson.

Nov. 24, at Clemson

About the Tigers: Clemson made its third consecutive appearance in the College Football Playoff a year ago and returns a frightening defensive line that includes surprise returnees Christian Wilkins and Clelin Ferrell. Quarterback Kelly Bryant might be supplanted by five-star freshman Trevor Lawrence by this point in the season.

Gamecocks prospects: Clemson is on a four-game winning streak and will be a big favorite to extend it to five this year. An upset here would be the biggest feather in Muschamp’s cap thus far at South Carolina, but it would be a big upset.