Here's your annual reminder: It's easy to read far too much into the first game of the college football season. College football remains the only major sport in America without a preseason, meaning that the way first games unfold can be incredibly deceptive. But with that out of the way -- there appeared to be a very good team on the field in Columbia when South Carolina played Texas A&M on Thursday night, and it wasn't the Gamecocks.
In fact, if you were a South Carolina believer, this was the nightmare scenario: A secondary completely incapable of stopping the pass, an offense that swung erratically from an effective unit connecting for big plays to a team that needed a generous helping of pass interference calls to keep the game in reach as long as it did. With Mike Davis out for much of the game, the rushing offense was nonexistent; the passing game did better, but largely because it had so many chances as South Carolina tried to dig out of a giant hole.
For A&M, this was about as well as the first game of the post-Johnny Manziel era could have gone. South Carolina left plenty of receivers wide open, but give Kenny Hill credit for mercilessly capitalizing on the Gamecocks' mistakes. Hill ended the game 44-of-60 for 511 yards -- a school record -- and three touchdowns. The running game churned out 169 yards and four touchdowns on 39 carries. The 680 yards that South Carolina allowed were the most in program history.
Perhaps the most discouraging thing for South Carolina was not just that its defense got incinerated, but that the offense moved in spurts when it was moving at all. The Gamecocks did rack up 433 total yards on 62 plays, and Dylan Thompson's passer rating wasn't terrible after he went 20-of-40 for 366 yards, four touchdowns and an interception. But some of those yards came in a furious catch-up effort, and six of South Carolina's 11 drives covered less than 40 yards; all of them included fewer than nine plays. It was all-or-nothing for the Gamecocks offense Thursday night, and too often they ended up with nothing.
The result of the game, of course, is not fatal for South Carolina; beat Georgia in two weeks, and the Gamecocks will have blown the East wide open all over again. But the South Carolina team that played Thursday night will have its hands full trying to beat East Carolina next week, let alone Georgia. If the opening game was representative of how well South Carolina will play throughout the year, the goal should be getting to eight wins.
Reassessing A&M is a little bit more difficult, in part because we don't know how bad South Carolina is. If the Gamecocks are still a reasonably good team, and Thursday night was not a case of inexplicable first-game hiccups, then the SEC West race just became a lot more complicated. If South Carolina is instead a marginal bowl team, then Texas A&M might be looking at another eight- or nine-win season -- not bad, and in fact a good sight better than some people thought they would be. But the difference is significant, and it might take a few weeks until we can sort it all out.
In any case, the one thing we know is that the preseason narratives we had coming into this game were effectively decimated by the time the evening was over. Figuring out the new narratives will be the challenge.