Last week we took a look at the first half of the Gamecocks’ 2014 football schedule, concluding that the five early SEC games may give USC the chance to jump on top of the East division race, positioning itself to potentially make an impact on the playoff system being initiated this season. Though the second half of the schedule contains only three SEC matchups, the conference opponents are a particularly tricky bunch, and the addition of Clemson at year’s end adds national spice to the mix.
The second half run begins with Furman, a small yet very interesting historical opponent. The Paladins introduced USC to the college football world in 1892, crushing the Gamecocks 44-0 in Carolina’s first game ever. For the next half century Furman held its ground, taking an 18-16 lead in the series through 1950, when the power shifted leading to USC wins in 12 of the last 13 meetings. The loss came in 1982 and the Gamecocks have only engaged the Paladins once since then, a 38-19 victory in Columbia in 2010. Obviously the ancient history means very little in this case, but is an interesting tidbit nonetheless. With two weeks to prepare for this one, it should present no problem.
While the balanced, alternating home-away-home-away aspect of this year’s schedule has been praised by coach Spurrier, there is little doubt that the week off before Furman could have been put to better use against Auburn, Carolina’s next opponent. Ancient history may mean very little, but the fact that the Gamecocks have only defeated Auburn once – a 2-point win in 1933 – should serve as a motivator if nothing else. The Tigers have owned USC, winning all seven games since we joined the SEC, including the embarrassing 56-17 beatdown in the 2010 conference championship. But then again, how does one predict the performance of an Auburn team that went 0-8 in conference play in 2012 only to end up in the national championship game a year later? Bi-polar? Streaks have to end, let’s just hope that history – both ancient and current – does matter in that sense this time around.
Following Auburn things stay tricky for the Gamecocks, as they host Tennessee in Columbia. The Vols have dominated the series 23-7 with 2 ties, but the rising Gamecocks have won 3 of the last 4. Chances are Vegas will favor USC again, but we all remember what happened last year. Indeed, despite the numerical dominance of the Vols, this series has been a tough one for both teams since USC joined the conference, with 8 of the 22 games decided by a touchdown or less. Of course, only three of those went Carolina’s way. USC’s best chance? Remember the substantial negative impact of last season’s loss (keeping USC out of the SEC championship and the BCS) and be very, very angry about it on the field this year.
USC closes the SEC regular season at Florida, yet another virtually unpredictable opponent. Historically similar to the Tennessee series, Florida leads USC in wins 24-7, with 3 ties. But again, the Gamecocks have triumphed in 3 of the last 4. Unlike the Tennessee series, only a handful of the games have been within a touchdown, with USC only winning two of them, both within the last 3 years. The bottom line is that the ‘Cocks traditionally do not play the Gators well, as evidenced by the 44-11 stomping taken the last time we visited Gainesville in 2012. It’s tempting to jump on the “Florida’s on the way down” bandwagon, but it’s a little too similar to the Vols situation to cling too tightly to that idea, at least until the game is over.
The Gamecocks return home from Gainesville to face another brand new opponent, the South Alabama Jaguars. South Alabama has no ancient history, having played its first season ever in 2010. Coming off of a 6-6 season I suppose one could give the Jaguars a little credit for finishing the year with a win over Louisiana-Lafayette, which has surprisingly received votes in both the Coaches and AP preseason polls. However, there appears to be no significant threat here. Of course, they did stay within a touchdown of Tennessee last year.
That brings us to the rivalry game with Clemson. Evidently dusty records indicate that the Tigers used to beat Carolina on a somewhat regular basis prior to the current USC streak of 5 wins in a row. Who knew? The main question now is whether or not the Gamecocks can keep the streak alive. The streak is already USC’s longest and only 2 wins shy of the longest in the rivalry’s history (Clemson won 7 from 1934-1940). All 5 USC wins have been by double-digits with the average margin of victory at 16 points, an indicator that it will take a major turn for Clemson to reverse the trend.
With five ranked teams on the schedule the Gamecocks’ path to glory will be a tough climb, especially given the major shift at the quarterback position. A fourth consecutive 11-win season becomes something of a long shot given these circumstances, but if Carolina has truly become an elite program it will certainly have a legitimate opportunity to show it with this schedule. We’re blessed to have coach Spurrier here, but the clock is ticking on his tenure and his level of success in redefining the program will dictate who USC is able to eventually draw in as his replacement. Keep your fingers crossed.