Josh Kendall

An early look at South Carolina’s tough 2019 football schedule

Looking ahead to 2019, it’s a season in which South Carolina will play Alabama, Georgia and Clemson, all of whom could be ranked in the top five at the time of the game. It would mark the toughest season on paper since South Carolina played No. 1 Florida, No. 2 Alabama and No. 4 Ole Miss in the 2009 season. Here’s a look at each game of next year’s regular season:

North Carolina, Aug. 31, Charlotte, N.C.

The Tar Heels will be coming off a 2-9 season but should be energized by the re-hiring of head coach Mack Brown, at least for one game. The Gamecocks are 3-0 all-time in Bank of America Stadium and will be playing their second straight game in the home of the Carolina Panthers coming off the Dec. 29 Belk Bowl.

Charleston Southern, Sept. 7, Columbia

The Buccaneers finished 5-6 this season. This is a paycheck game for them and a win for South Carolina.

Alabama, Sept. 14, Columbia

South Carolina is the last SEC East team to beat the Crimson Tide. That victory came on Oct. 9, 2010 in Williams-Brice Stadium. Alabama was the defending national champion and on a 19-game winning streak entering that game. The Tide is expected to be the defending national champion and on a 19-game winning streak coming into this game.

Missouri, Sept. 21, Columbia, Mo.

The Tigers probably will start Clemson transfer Kelly Bryant at quarterback. Bryant threw for 272 yards and two touchdowns in a 34-10 Clemson win over South Carolina in 2017. That will make what has become one of the Gamecocks’ weirdest rivalries interesting for another year.

Kentucky, Sept. 28, Columbia

Five. That’s how many consecutive games the Wildcats have now won over the Gamecocks. South Carolina has beaten Tennessee and Florida three times each in that same time span. It’s an unfamiliar world in which the Gamecocks are above the Volunteers and Gators in the SEC East but being dominated by Kentucky. The good news is tailback Benny Snell will be gone (and the Wildcats just lost a commitment from a four-star running back).

Georgia, Oct. 12, Athens, Ga.

This rivalry seems like it’s going to be very little fun for South Carolina or anybody else in the SEC East for a while. The Bulldogs are on a 13-game winning streak against the rest of the division and figure to be stronger in 2019 than they were in 2018.

Florida, Oct. 19, Columbia

The Gators probably will have found a quarterback that Dan Mullen likes by this point, and it probably will be Emory Jones. Mullen has proven dangerous when he has the right quarterback in place, but the Gamecocks have won three of their last four against Florida in Williams-Brice Stadium.

Tennessee, Oct. 26, Knoxville, Tenn.

The Gamecocks have beaten the Volunteers three straight times for just the second time in school history. Another win would establish a record winning streak against Tennessee and keep South Carolina a step ahead in the competition to challenge Georgia in the division.

Vanderbilt, Nov. 2, Columbia

The Gamecocks are on a 10-game winning streak in this series. The Commodores are expected to again be the Commodores in what will be the latest-in-the-season meeting ever between these teams.

Appalachian State, Nov. 9, Columbia

It’s possible, if only slightly so, that this will mark a reunion with former USC offensive line coach Shawn Elliott. Elliott is now the head coach at Georgia State and his alma mater is looking for a new head coach. There’s no evidence that Elliott wants the job or would get it if he did, but his name will be mentioned.

Texas A&M, Nov. 16, College Station, Texas

The Aggies are 5-0 all-time against South Carolina, and this game won’t be any easier. Quarterback Kellen Mond, a junior next year, will be in his second straight season with Texas A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher, and Kyle Field is an intimidating environment.

Clemson, Nov. 30, Columbia

South Carolina is making progress against its in-state rival, but the hard facts are that the Tigers have won five in a row, the most recent by 21 points in a game during which the Gamecocks offense could not have played much better. Will Muschamp eventually will have to turn this rivalry around, but it probably will not come in this game.

What to expect

This slate probably makes a 9-3 season the best case scenario for South Carolina, which would have to turn around its fortunes against both Texas A&M and Kentucky and beat Florida and Tennessee again just to make that happen.