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First games are all about expectations, and there are plenty of them tonight.
Once again, there are expectations that this could be the year at South Carolina. And Southern Mississippi is trying to regain the BCS-buster cachet it had at the height of the Jeff Bower Era, when the Golden Eagles were knocking off Alabama and Oklahoma State in the same season, and win the Conference USA title for the first time since 2003.
Of course, it would be nice if we knew who was going to play for South Carolina before the game kicks off. And it would be nice if we could figure out whether Steve Spurrier is playing head games with Stephen Garcia or is truly as pessimistic about his quarterback as he sounds. And it would be nice to know if a coaching change can actually turn the Gamecocks offensive line into an effective unit.
But we don't. We can guess at each (all of them except two to five, maybe, probably not) -- but we don't know. That's why preseason is the time for expectations and hopes and the games are time for reality, for better or for worse. But we also don't know about whether HotelGate and AgentGate have distracted a team that needs to be focused on an opening game that will be more difficult than it appears.
The overall guess has to be that South Carolina has the edge, roster puzzle or not. Despite Southern Miss' expectations for 2010 and the 2009 win against Kansas, this is still a team that lost to awful opponents like Virginia and UAB. The defense will probably better -- it's more experienced and almost can't get worse -- but the overwhelming majority of the offense that led to what success the Golden Eagles had last year is gone.
That's the margin for South Carolina tonight. But it won't tell us whether the Gamecocks can meet those expectations -- we won't know that until at least next week's game against Georgia.
South Carolina 28, Southern Miss 17
YEAR2 CHIMES IN:
I can't put together a better game preview than CnF did above, so I won't try. I see this being a better game than last year's 7-3 snoozefest between South Carolina and NC State (anything but a repeat of 3-2 would be), but not by a whole lot. South Carolina has yet to put on an offensive show in an opener under Spurrier, but the defense has always been tight.
South Carolina 19, Southern Miss 13