Josh Kendall

Let’s face it: USC’s ‘absolutely brutal’ schedule is THE topic of the offseason

South Carolina’s schedule started another stir on Tuesday.

This is where some readers will stop and say, “No, you started a stir on Tuesday.” We can agree to disagree there, but here’s the background: I was interviewed on Paul Finebaum’s show and was asked about South Carolina’s 2019 football schedule and the general state of the program. Here’s what I said. (I have transcribed the most pertinent parts below.) I believed then and believe now these are all reasonable comments.

Here’s the part of what I said the Finebaum show tweeted out Tuesday afternoon: “2020 is the big year for Will Muschamp. 2019 is about survival on the field to set up what in 2020 is kind of a prove it year for Muschamp.” That set off, as these things often do because of the reach of Finebaum’s show and the nature of football in the South, social media reaction that kept my Twitter notifications number tilting all afternoon. (Related: Does anyone know how you extricate yourself from a Twitter conversation that devolves into an argument between two competing camps? Thanks in advance.)

As is usually the case in these situations, the eventual argument had nothing to do with the original point. The first statement just becomes the launching point for what college football fan bases love the most: Mocking their rival and shaking their fist at imagined enemies. See also: November’s Muschamp voting question debacle. (Related, part two: I’m never going to engage in these debates on Twitter but feel free to reach out via email or say hello if you see me on the street.)

The reality is the South Carolina’s 2019 schedule — which includes Alabama, Georgia and Clemson — is going to be THE topic of the offseason. Here’s Finebaum on the subject: “It is absolutely brutal. There is just no getting around it.”

It’s a topic. It’s going to be a topic. Even if Will Muschamp doesn’t want it to be a topic. Muschamp doesn’t want it to be the biggest story of the offseason, but it’s going to be the biggest story of the season.

Here’s a transcription of the exchange between Finebaum and me about USC’s schedule, among other things:

Finebaum: I’m interested in the two biggest jobs on campus, the basketball and football coach. We’ll start with Frank Martin, where is he contractually? And then we’ll get to Will Muschamp.

Me: I don’t deal day-to-day with basketball so I don’t know where Frank is. I know he’s not near the end of his deal, but I think this is important time for Frank Martin. He doesn’t have a tournament appearance aside from the Final Four. Now, you just can’t say ‘Aside from the Final Four.’ That’s big doings at South Carolina, but you see where Lamont Evans, a former assistant whose name has been brought up, if that eventually tracks back to the point where the NCAA says that South Carolina used an ineligible player and that banner comes down. ... It never comes out of memory banks but if the banner comes down that’s a psychic blow for the university and I think that retroactively affects Frank’s footing here. He needs to win games.

Will Muschamp is under contract until 2024, and I think everybody, certainly Ray Tanner, understands what 2019’s fall looks like for Will Muschamp, so I think 2020 frankly is the big year for Muschamp. 2019 is about survival on the field to set up what in 2020 is kind of a prove-it year for Will Muschamp.

Finebaum: We’re talking about three years since (Steve Spurrier) walked out. [Muschamp is] 22-17 overall. He’s .500 in the SEC. You tell me: How does that play in a community and a state where the guy down the road who Spurrier at one time beat five straight times is a regular appearer in the national championship tournament and has won two of the last three?

Me: Whichever side of the Will Muschamp debate you are on you can put out a pretty good case. He’s won 22 games. That’s more than anybody has ever won here in their first three years. Spurrier had the previous record at 21. He did that after inheriting what Spurrier has acknowledged was not an SEC roster. He has improved the infrastructure of the program. He has modernized a program that Spurrier ran in a very 1990s style. … So Will has done a lot of good, but you mentioned that they’ve now lost five in a row to Clemson, which is on an unprecedented roll, and they haven’t been really close. South Carolina is not close to Clemson at the moment and that wears on the Carolina people so that’s a problem for Will. It’s not an immediate problem but it’s a problem in the future getting that thing turned around. No matter what else he does, if that thing extends to a seven-game losing streak, an eight-game losing streak, etc., etc., that’s an anchor around a coach’s neck at South Carolina.

Finebaum: You alluded to the schedule. I don’t think anyone could argue against the following statement that South Carolina has the hardest schedule in the country. It is absolutely brutal. There is just no getting around it. So knowing that you have Alabama, knowing that you have Georgia and Clemson. By almost everyone’s projections, those are the No. 1, 2 and 3 schools in the country. You also have the normal lot of Florida and Tennessee and North Carolina to begin. Florida is a potential top 10 team. A&M is not far outside the top 10. We already mentioned the other three. What are fans saying? What’s the expectation for 2019?

Me: Well, fans are fans. What they’re saying right now is, ‘That’s a tough schedule man. I’ll be happy with 7-5.’ And then … you finish 7-5 people when the season is over and people are not going to be happy. I think that people understand right now, as we sit here in May or April in non-football season, and everybody says, ‘We understand what’s in front of us,’ but then you get in the fall and you finish 6-6 and folks are not going to be happy. Will could have a good, solid football team and finish 6-6 without any problem.

Finebaum: Let’s just say he does and goes to a bowl game and maybe has a better result than last year or doesn’t, who knows, 7-6, 6-7, because it would take an enormous effort to win more than seven games. You kept mentioning next year. So, what happens then? Let’s say it’s six straight losses to Clemson. Georgia, I’ve lost track of what it is, but I know Spurrier beat Georgia at some point but that has not gone well since then. What are people going to be saying? I realize I’m jumping ahead a year, but it’s a pretty important jump ahead.

Me: That’s fair. That’s year five, patience kind of runs out. I think at the salaries they are paying these coaches now — this is not Will Muschamp specific — but at the salary you are paying in the SEC now, it is fair for these folks to say, ‘OK, we want results now.’ Alabama cycles off the schedule in 2020 but the core problem doesn’t change, which is that South Carolina is stuck geographically and otherwise right between Georgia and Clemson who are on monster rolls right now. The team that they have to beat to make every fan in their state feel good is the defending national champion. The team that they have to beat to win their division and get back to Atlanta for the second time in history is on a roll that is not quite as good as Clemson but is getting there. That’s a problem. Those guys are still around in 2020. I think that next fall (2020) you will hear a lot of, ‘Big year for Will Muschamp,’ ‘Is Will Muschamp on the hot seat?’, ‘It’s time for Will Muschamp and South Carolina to show some progress.’

Finebaum: You said some very kind things about Muschamp in terms of the infrastructure. Spurrier was a different breed. … What do people think of Will Muschamp? He was hired at the same time as Kirby Smart. They come from similar trees. The results have been dramatically different so far.

Me: Nothing is really 50-50, but you’re real close to 50-50 in Columbia at this point (on Muschamp). When the news of his hiring broke, he had an uphill battle PR-wise because of what had happened at Florida. He pretty quickly climbed that hill because of the way he talked, the things he did, the fact that they won nine games in year two. He endeared himself to the South Carolina people well, but that only lasts the blink of an eye in the SEC, especially when you’ve got the Clemson problem staring you in the face. So I think that folks now have settled into sides. … They’ve settled into their camps. You’re either for Will Muschamp and you see the things I was talking about earlier or you’re against Will Muschamp and you see the reality that your two biggest rivals are beating your doors in and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight to that.

South Carolina 2019 schedule

Aug. 31 — North Carolina (2-9 last season)*

Sept. 7 — Charleston Southern (5-6)

Sept. 14 — Alabama (14-1)

Sept. 21 — at Missouri (8-5)

Sept. 28 — Kentucky (10-3)

Oct. 12 — at Georgia (11-3)

Oct. 19 — Florida (10-3)

Oct. 26 — at Tennessee (5-7)

Nov. 2 — Vanderbilt (6-7)

Nov. 9 — Appalachian State (11-2)

Nov. 16 — at Texas A&M (9-4)

Nov. 30 — Clemson (15-0)

*in Charlotte