South Carolina's season can almost always be divided into two portions: September and October on one side, and November on the other. Beginning with the 2002 season, the Gamecocks are 8-20 in November. Over that time frame, they've been at .500 twice in November and had a winning record once. Spurrier has all three of those seasons since he took the job at Columbia before the 2005 season; he's 7-10, which is not good but is better. Part of that late season slide is due to the Orange Crush, a stretch of the season beginning in late October or early November that almost always includes Tennessee, Florida and Clemson -- as well as Arkansas and, in fairness, sometimes the odd cupcake. A win or two in that stretch is often what has separated South Carolina from the breakout eight- or nine-win season its fans are looking for. But there are also some early-season games that can't be overlooked.
THE ORANGE CRUSH
TENNESSEE | Oct. 30
Aside from Troy, this should be by far the easiest game this year in the season-ending stretch. Generally, this game goes by Tennessee's season: If the Vols are a sub-.500 team, they lose to South Carolina; a .500-plus Tennessee will defeat the Gamecocks. That might seem less than revelatory, but there are series with a less distinct pattern out there. With Tennessee expected to be at or below .500 this year, this could be a significant game for both teams.
at FLORIDA | Nov. 13
If Stephen Garcia is just a bit more accurate on one pass last year, it would have been a much more accurate game. Which is often the way it's gone for Steve Spurrier against his old team. (Exceptions: 2007, a nearly three-TD win, and the annihilation of South Carolina during Florida's earth-scorching late-season campaign in 2008.) It's a pivotal year for the Head Ball Coach and a transition year for Florida into the post-Tebow Era, which means it should be even more interesting than usual. For now, South Carolina can only hope it will have a different outcome than usual.
at CLEMSON | Nov. 27
Last year's 34-17 clobbering of Clemson came out of nowhere for a South Carolina team that seemed to be searching for offense all year. And while the hope generated by the rivalry victory was quickly dissolved by the ugly loss to Connecticut in the bowl game, it remains one of Spurrier's several signature wins at South Carolina. Now he tries to be the coach who wins back-to-back games against Clemson for the first time since 1969-70. If South Carolina has even a moderately surprisingly good year, this could be a huge game.
SEVEN WINS ... OR EVEN MORE?
GEORGIA | Sept. 11
In the last 10 games between South Carolina, the Gamecocks are 3-7. But over the same time frame, either team has scored more than 20 points just twice and the margin of victory has been greater than a touchdown just three times. The losses for South Carolina are often agonizing, but of course they all count the same in the record books. Last year's game featured the kind of points outburst that both teams seemed to be mostly incapable of, particularly against other SEC teams, so even the type of game isn't a given.
at AUBURN | Sept. 25
South Carolina's eight games against Auburn are the fewest against any SEC team, with the Tigers having a 6-1-1 record against the Gamecocks. South Carolina last won against Auburn in 1933, the last of a four-game series in which the Gamecocks went 1-2-1. The last time they met, in 2006, the Gamecocks very nearly pulled off the upset against the then-No. 2 Tigers despite Auburn holding the ball for the entire third quarter. An interesting game in an interesting season for both teams.
ARKANSAS | Nov. 6
South Carolina led 16-10 last year before Arkansas scored 23 straight points to turn what had been a relatively close game into a rout. The two teams, each of which joined the league in the 1992 expansion, are actually interdivision rivals according to the SEC and are beginning to build up some of the lore that creates a rivalry. (The McFadden game of 2007 is an easy entrant.) But there's still a long way from having one of the premiere rivalries in the league. If they both manage to have a few very good seasons, that could change.
9.2.10 | SOUTHERN MISS This could be a more difficult opener than it appears, though it's probably an easier game than the one it replaced (North Carolina, who
wimped out of asked to delay their game with South Carolina when ESPN arranged a showdown with LSU on a different week.) There was a time when the Golden Eagles were the up-and-coming mid-major team. In any case, they have to rebuild their offense (three starters return per Steele) but keep most of their defense and won't be a cupcake.
9.18.10 | FURMAN South Carolina always finds itself in close games (though sometimes with deceptively large final margins) against in-state FCS programs but also always finds a way to win. No reason to expect anything different here.
10.9.10 | ALABAMA An intriguing game. The defense played a major role in the Tide's victory in Tuscaloosa last year, but the game also coincided with Alabama's midseason offensive slump. Assuming Alabama can avoid that this time, the Tide should be heavily favored despite the defensive attrition. If not ...
10.16.10 | at KENTUCKY Kentucky hasn't defeated South Carolina since 1999, when the Gamecocks went 0-11 and were easily one of the worst SEC teams of the last 20 years. But the Wildcats have come close several times, including last season's two-point South Carolina win.
10.23.10 | at VANDERBILT The game against the Commodores has proven to be a land mine for the Gamecocks in the Spurrier Era. It was a home loss to Vanderbilt that started the unraveling of the 2007 season, when South Carolina started out ranked No. 6, and the defeat in Nashville that knocked out any early dreams in 2008. Last year's narrow home win wasn't much better.
11.20.10 | TROY The "other" Trojans have won just one of their 12 games against SEC teams, but they've made it incredibly difficult before. (See: LSU, 2008) They also are in the middle of the Orange Crush, which makes a win an outside possibility but a scare a possible outcome.