This might be the hardest year for me to predict the Gamecocks' outcome in a long time. For the first time, there are real reasons for me to go with my heart and say that South Carolina could indeed be an elite team. But then, the Gamecock in me wants to banish such happy thoughts and say that South Carolina will find a way to squander this opportunity and set last year's 9-5 finish in the Game Formerly Known as the Peach Bowl as the ceiling.
The question about South Carolina's hopes in the SEC East is still: Who can beat them? That Georgia -- a team that went 6-7 last year after losing to a Conference USA team in the bowl game -- is the best answer many of us can come up with is a sign of just how far the division has fallen. For the first time in a long time, I don't have any confidence that Mark Richt is the man to get the job done in Athens. But Aaron Murray is good enough, and the rest of the East flawed enough, that the Dawgs are the best competition for South Carolina. So we'll go with that.
In some ways, this is the first year that it's bad for general viewers that the South Carolina-Georgia game is going to be the second week of the season. It's a scheduling tradition that shouldn't be changed, but in this case, it could make the race for the East anticlimactic. Whoever loses that game is going to be fighting just to stay mathematically alive, as the rest of the teams in the division save maybe Florida should provide minimal competition for either team.
Much has been made of the disparity between the interdivision schedule, which would be the one thing that should ring the alarm bell for Gamecock fans. The Arkansas game, as we saw last year, is maybe the worst matchup for South Carolina in the league. And Mississippi State will be a tricky game in Starkville. Georgia misses the Hogs this year and gets the battle of the bulldogs in Athens, while both teams host Auburn. Slight edge to Georgia
It's hard to make heads or tails of the nonconference schedule -- though it's irrelevant for divisional purposes. South Carolina's is perhaps more even, with Clemson, a neutral-site game against a tough East Carolina team and a historically troubling showdown with Navy surrounding the cupcake game against The Citadel. (Yes, it's capitalized.) Georgia has the marquee game against Boise State and the annual rivalry against Georgia Tech, but the Jackets have been stung by the NCAA and New Mexico State and Coastal Carolina should provide plenty of playing experience for the third string.
But being dispassionate sometimes means you have to stop being afraid of jinxing your team. So I'll say it: South Carolina has two of the best skill players in the country on the offense, a tough defensive front seven that will be as good or better and a secondary that should improve. There are some replacements to be made along the offensive line, but nothing that they can't overcome.
South Carolina's margin of error, though, is microscopic. Georgia could potentially rally from a loss in Athens, given the ease of the schedule after that. It's hard to see the Gamecocks recovering in the same way, because the possibility of another loss is so great. If A.J. Green and a running back who had taken a snap in recent years were rejoining the Dawgs this season, it might be a completely different pick. So give South Carolina the slight edge for right now, subject to change if things go Georgia's way in early September.
Place: First in SEC East
Record: 11-1, 7-1 SEC
Could be: 7-5 to 12-0
Upset Alert: NAVY
Place: Second in SEC East
Record: 9-3, 6-2 SEC
Could be: 8-4 to 12-0
Upset Alert: AUBURN
|9.3.11 | vs ECU | PROBABLE WIN||9.3.11 | vs BOISE STATE | POSSIBLE LOSS|
|9.10.11 | at GEORGIA | POSSIBLE WIN||9.10.11 | SOUTH CAROLINA | POSSIBLE LOSS|
|9.17.11 | NAVY | PROBABLE WIN||9.17.11 | COASTAL CAROLINA | WIN|
|9.24.11 | VANDERBILT | LIKELY WIN||9.24.11 | at OLE MISS | PROBABLE WIN|
|10.1.11 | AUBURN | PROBABLE WIN||10.1.11 | MISSISSIPPI STATE | POSSIBLE WIN|
|10.8.11 | KENTUCKY | PROBABLE WIN||10.8.11 | at TENNESSEE | POSSIBLE WIN|
|10.15.11 | at MISSISSIPPI ST | POSSIBLE WIN||10.15.11 | at VANDERBILT | LIKELY WIN|
|10.29.11 | at TENNESSEE | POSSIBLE WIN||10.29.11 | vs FLORIDA | POSSIBLE LOSS|
|11.5.11 | at ARKANSAS | POSSIBLE LOSS||11.5.11 | NEW MEXICO STATE | WIN|
|11.12.11 | FLORIDA | POSSIBLE WIN||11.12.11 | AUBURN | POSSIBLE WIN|
|11.19.11 | THE CITADEL | WIN||11.19.11 | KENTUCKY | PROBABLE WIN|
|11.26.11 | CLEMSON | POSSIBLE WIN||11.26.11 | at GEORGIA TECH | PROBABLE WIN|