Will Muschamp needs a moment.
South Carolina’s head football coach is not on the hot seat and will not be on the hot seat at any time during the 2019 season, no matter what kind of comments come up during what Steve Spurrier so aptly called “talking season.”
But he does need a moment. Not a moment to catch his breath, but a moment to hang his hat on.
The schedule that awaits the Gamecocks this fall has been well-chronicled and will continue to be the biggest story of the offseason and probably the preseason. ESPN has projected it to be the toughest in the country. South Carolina will not be, and should not be, picked to contend in its division.
The hot seat talk started this week with SEC Network personality Paul Finebaum, who said on a Birmingham, Alabama, radio show that “the seat probably should be (hot).”
Finebaum sets the narrative for the conference as much as anyone in the country. He also said this: “When you’re in Year 4, you really ought to just knock off on the excuses.”
Muschamp is among the highest-paid football coaches in the country and under contract through 2024. It is not realistic to expect him to post a double-digit win season this year, but it is reasonable to expect this team will give its fans a glimpse of what Muschamp and his staff expect the future to be.
There will be five opportunities to do that this season. (No, snapping an embarrassing five-game losing streak against Kentucky doesn’t count.) Here they are:
▪ At home against Alabama on Sept. 14: The Crimson Tide was No. 1 in the nation the last time it played in Williams-Brice Stadium. The Gamecocks won that game 35-21, and it remains Alabama’s most recent loss to an Eastern Division opponent. Nick Saban’s team probably won’t be ranked No. 1 in the second week of the season, but it probably will be No. 2.
▪ On the road against Georgia on Oct. 12: The Bulldogs won’t be far behind Alabama. Georgia is expected to enter the season in the top five, maybe as high as No. 3. South Carolina has lost four in a row and five of the last six in this series, and former Muschamp teammate Kirby Smart sits directly in the Gamecocks’ path to Atlanta.
▪ At home against Florida on Oct. 19: The Gators are ranked No. 8 in ESPN’s offseason Top 25. Dan Mullen’s first season ended with 10 wins, although one of them was a gift from the Gamecocks (a 35-31 Florida win in Gainesville, Florida, on Nov. 11).
▪ On the road against Texas A&M on Nov. 16: The Aggies are No. 11 in the ESPN Top 25. Like Florida, they have a big-name coach in his second year. Texas A&M was 9-4 in Jimbo Fisher’s first year and has never lost to the Gamecocks.
▪ At home against Clemson on Nov. 30: The defending national champion. South Carolina’s most bitter rival. The Tigers’ current five-game winning streak. This one is self-explanatory.
Let’s assume a 6-6 overall record and 4-4 SEC record in the upcoming season. That’s very doable, and it would leave Muschamp 28-23 overall and 16-16 in the SEC. A .500 record in the SEC is not what any USC fan is shooting for, but it’s something only one USC coach (Spurrier at 44-40) has managed to best in his career.
What Muschamp needs to do this year is not win nine games. It’s win a big game.
South Carolina needs to win at least one of its big five games this fall for its fan base to maintain a warm and fuzzy feeling about its head coach.
Otherwise, the hot seat talk will come back fast and furious this time next year.
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)