December 30, 2018, Gamecockfanatics Corner by Henry Fusco
An early look at South Carolina’s tough 2019 football schedule
The Gamecocks’ 2018 season is now in the books With a disappointing 28-0 loss vs Virginia in the Belk Bowl, (shut out for the first time in bowl history)has been ten years since the Gamecocks the last shutout. Gamecocks finish the season 7-6. Now let's look ahead to 2019, a season in which South Carolina will play Alabama, Georgia, and Clemson, all of whom could be ranked in the top five at the time of the game. It would mark the toughest season on paper since South Carolina played No. 1 Florida, No. 2 Alabama and No. 4 Ole Miss in the 2009 season. Here’s a look at each game of next year’s regular season:
North Carolina, Aug. 31, Charlotte, N.C.
The Tar Heels will be coming off a 2-9 season but should be energized by the re-hiring of head coach Mack Brown, at least for one game. The Gamecocks are 3-1 all-time in Bank of America Stadium with only loss to Virginia in the Belk Bowl. Gamecocks will be playing their second straight game in the home of the Carolina Panthers coming off the disappointing loss in Dec. 29 Belk Bowl. Early Prediction Win
Charleston Southern, Sept. 7, Columbia
The Buccaneers finished 5-6 this season. This is a paycheck game for them and a win for South Carolina. Early Prediction Win
Alabama, Sept. 14, Columbia
South Carolina is the last SEC East team to beat the Crimson Tide. That victory came on Oct. 9, 2010 in Williams-Brice Stadium. Alabama was the defending national champion and on a 19-game winning streak entering that game. The Tide is expected to be the defending national champion and on a 19-game winning streak coming into this game. Early Prediction Loss
Missouri, Sept. 21, Columbia, Mo.
The Tigers probably will start Clemson transfer Kelly Bryant at quarterback. Bryant threw for 272 yards and two touchdowns in a 34-10 Clemson win over South Carolina in 2017. That will make what has become one of the Gamecocks’ weirdest rivalries interesting for another year. Early Prediction Loss
Kentucky, Sept. 28, Columbia
Five. That’s how many consecutive games the Wildcats have now won over the Gamecocks. South Carolina has beaten Tennessee and Florida three times each in that same time span. It’s an unfamiliar world in which the Gamecocks are above the Volunteers and Gators in the SEC East but being dominated by Kentucky. The good news is tailback Benny Snell will be gone (and the Wildcats just lost a commitment from a four-star running back). Early Prediction Win
Georgia, Oct. 12, Athens, Ga.
This rivalry seems like it’s going to be very little fun for South Carolina or anybody else in the SEC East for a while. The Bulldogs are on a 13-game winning streak against the rest of the division and figure to be stronger in 2019 than they were in 2018. Early Prediction Loss
Florida, Oct. 19, Columbia
The Gators probably will have found a quarterback that Dan Mullen likes by this point, and it probably will be Emory Jones. Mullen has proven dangerous when he has the right quarterback in place, but the Gamecocks have won three of their last four against Florida in Williams-Brice Stadium. Early Prediction Loss
Tennessee, Oct. 26, Knoxville, Tenn.
The Gamecocks have beaten the Volunteers three straight times for just the second time in school history. Another win would establish a record winning streak against Tennessee and keep South Carolina a step ahead in the competition to challenge Georgia in the division. Early Prediction Loss
Vanderbilt, Nov. 2, Columbia
The Gamecocks are on a 10-game winning streak in this series. The Commodores are expected to again be the Commodores in what will be the latest-in-the-season meeting ever between these teams. Early Prediction Win
Appalachian State, Nov. 9, Columbia
It’s possible, if only slightly so, that this will mark a reunion with former USC offensive line coach Shawn Elliott. Elliott is now the head coach at Georgia State and his alma mater is looking for a new head coach. There’s no evidence that Elliott wants the job or would get it if he did, but his name will be mentioned. Early Prediction Win
Texas A&M, Nov. 16, College Station, Texas
The Aggies are 5-0 all-time against South Carolina, and this game won’t be any easier. Quarterback Kellen Mond, a junior next year, will be in his second straight season with Texas A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher, and Kyle Field is an intimidating environment. Early Prediction Loss
Clemson, Nov. 30, Columbia
South Carolina is making progress against its in-state rival, but the hard facts are that the Tigers have won five in a row, the most recent by 21 points in a game during which the Gamecocks offense could not have played much better. Will Muschamp eventually will have to turn this rivalry around, but it probably will not come in this game. Early Prediction Loss
What to expect
This slate probably makes a 9-3 season the best case scenario for South Carolina, which would have to turn around its fortunes against both Texas A&M and Kentucky and beat Florida and Tennessee again just to make that happen. At this time I can not see that scenario working out. Worst case 5-7 most plausible 7-5. Would need wins on the road against Mizzu, Texas A&M or Tennesse would be the best cases for this to play out. Florida will be a home game vs Florida. But you will be looking at another top 10 teams to face off again.
SEC EAST EARLY PREDICTION
My outlook will be a Georgia and Florida runs for the east title. With a much improved Tennessee team and Mizzu battling for 3rd and 4th place, While South Carolina, Kentucky & Vanderbilt jocking to stay out of the cellar.
5 South Carolina
My outlook for 2019 wins & loses
Charleston Southern- W
App St- W
5-7 could happen easily, optimistically with improvements along the lines OL and DL plus Linebacker and a much-needed running game to help out with QB play will make the difference from a 5-7 to a possible 9 win campaign. Good chance this year Gamecocks beat Kentucky because of all the losses on offense and defense should be enough to break that losing streak. But the others for the most part no. Only other the Gamecocks can break another losing streak would be Texas A&M. But we will all have a better feel when spring practice arrives and get to see where the Gamecocks improved on. This is really just a very early glimpse for 2019 season.
Will Muschamp's first 3 years were better than Steve Spurrier's, but can he keep it going?
Will Muschamp is comfortably in his second stint piloting a program that Steve Spurrier once led to some of the best seasons in program history.
On the surface, it might seem that Muschamp is struggling to keep up with Spurrier’s accomplishments, both in recruiting and on-the-field results, overall and against the likes of rivals like Clemson. Spurrier’s South Carolina tenure is perhaps most known for the three consecutive 11-2 seasons, the 2010 SEC East title and a 5-0 stretch of double-digit wins against Dabo Swinney and Clemson. Not to mention four consecutive bowl victories. But all of that success started well into Spurrier’s stay in Columbia.
So, how to Muschamp compare to Spurrier’s first three years coaching the Gamecocks?
For starters, Muschamp recently received a contract extension, and his top assistants received raises.
With the Belk Bowl against Virginia on tap in Charlotte on Dec. 29, Muschamp is 22-16 and is the first Gamecocks coach to make a bowl game in each of his first three seasons.
You remember Spurrier with a slew of program-defining stars, like in-state recruits Stephon Gilmore, Alshon Jeffery, Jadeveon Clowney, D.J. Swearinger, Marcus Lattimore, A.J. Cann, DeVonte Holloman and Bruce Ellington. Or even out-of-state recruits-turned stars like Melvin Ingram, Connor Shaw, Ace Sanders, Mike Davis and Pharoh Cooper.
But for Spurrier, the groundwork was laid by the likes of Jared Cook, Kenny McKinley and Ryan Succop, who were some of the notable recruits in Spurrier’s first class in 2005. That first team under Spurrier made a name for itself with a 5-game winning streak midway through the season, all in conference play, punctuated with a win against No. 12 Florida, coached by Urban Meyer.
Similarly, but not quite to the same level, Muschamp’s first season featured wins over Tennessee and Missouri with new QB Jake Bentley. Bentley was part of a first recruiting class with other notable prospects like WR Bryan Edwards and RB Rico Dowdle, DE D.J. Wonnum and LB Javon Kinlaw. Each has made big plays already in their still blossoming careers.
Muschamp delivered a better second season than Spurrier in 2006, though the Head Ball Coach beat Clemson, the Gamecocks finished 8-5, with three SEC wins, and a win over Houston in the Liberty Bowl. Muschamp in 2017 finished 9-4 and 5-3 in the SEC, including a win over Michigan in the Outback Bowl. But aside from the ongoing issues with Kentucky, South Carolina again lost to Georgia and Clemson, a hill that will likely define Muschamp’s tenure in Columbia.
The topsy-turvy Spurrier tenure included QB Blake Mitchell being suspended after he was arrested for punching a bouncer in a Five Points bar, but he became one out of three quarterbacks in Gamecocks history to beat Tennessee, Florida, Georgia, and Clemson in his career. Spurrier also brought in the others: Stephen Garcia and Connor Shaw. Bentley still has plenty of work cut out for him in those areas.
In Spurrier’s third season, there was a glimpse of a troubled ending. The Gamecocks started 6-1 but lost five straight down the stretch and missed a bowl game. Muschamp, meanwhile, landed a 5-star defensive end and a quarterback for the future as the crown jewels of a solid recruiting class. The Gamecocks drew national attention with their performance at Clemson, though it didn’t deliver a victory, it showed optimism for the coming years.
Here is a breakdown of how Spurrier and Muschamp compare in their first three seasons:
Spurrier: 21-16 (1-1 in bowls)
Muschamp: 22-16 (1-1 with Belk Bowl pending)
Recruiting rankings (247Sports Composite)
Spurrier: 18th overall, 6th in SEC (2005), 33rd overall, 9th in SEC (2006), 7th overall, 4th in SEC (2007).
Muschamp: 25th overall, 10th in SEC (2016), 21st overall, 8th in SEC (2017), 18th overall, 7th in SEC (2018).
The one difference Muschamp must contend with is the consistent recent dominance of Clemson being in the top 5 nationally, something Spurrier never had to contend with, partially to his credit. Muschamp has yet to come within striking distance of beating Georgia, while Spurrier beat Mark Richt in his third season, in Athens, no less.
There have only been four times since Spurrier took over that South Carolina beat Clemson and Georgia in the same season. Even before Spurrier’s retirement season when he registered 2 wins, he averaged 7.2 wins in his non-11-2 seasons. Interestingly, Muschamp is averaging 7.3 wins per season, with the Belk Bowl pending.
Sure, Muschamp could pull off the rare double dip of beating Clemson and Georgia in the same season, likely on the strength of big games from Zacch Pickens and Ryan Hilinski. But the more likely scenario is a string of seasons with win totals in the 7 to 10-win range.
Spurrier set the highest bar any coach in program history has. Muschamp cleared it through 3 years, but the challenge is about to rise.