It’s almost September, which means two things: the NFL season is right on our heels and college football is even closer. As a graduate of URI, college football is a foreign language to me. For reference, during my Junior year the Rams won their opening game and then proceeded to lose their final 10 games. They opened my senior year by losing their first two games and finished that two year stretch with an superb record of 6-16. That incredibly sad story brings me to the University of South Carolina Gamecocks.
I’m an adopted fan of the Gamecocks thanks to my wife’s undying allegiance to her Alma Mater, so let’s take a look at their 2019 season.
In the latest Coaches/AP polls, the SEC has an impressive 6 teams in the top 25, including four (Alabama, Georgia, LSU, Florida) in the top 10. The Gamecocks have a very tough schedule as they will play against four of those 6 teams (at Georgia and Texas A&M, at home against Alabama and Florida) while also battling the current #1 Team That Shall Not Be Named to finish off the season.
If the Gamecocks lose all five of those games to their ranked opponents, they would finish 7-5 in the regular season for the second straight year. The 2018 Gamecocks were detrimentally consistent, trading wins and losses for the first six weeks before beating Tennessee and Ole Miss in consecutive games. They went on to trade wins and losses the rest of the way, ending the season with a 28-0 loss to Virginia in the prestigious Belk Bowl.
One huge advantage for the Gamecocks this year is that I will not be attending a home game. The Cock’s are 0-3 when I attend a game and it’s gotten to the point where my friends are starting to rethink inviting me down to a game ever again. Beyond that, the key to the Gamecocks offense will be a consistent rushing attack and far fewer turnovers for QB Jake Bentley.
In the Belk Bowl loss to Virginia, the Gamecocks rushed for less than 50 yards while Bentley completed 43% of his passes, threw zero touchdowns and 2 interceptions. That’s…not great. Bentley will be back for his senior year where you have to believe he’ll improve upon his SEC leading 14 interceptions from last year. A big part of that improvement will take place off the field, as Bentley explained a few days ago.
Another improvement on the offensive side could come from right down the road in South Carolina. Tavien Feaster transferred to the Gamecocks from the The Team That Shall Be Named and has added some much needed depth to the running back position alongside Rico Dowdle and Mon Denson. While it’s too early to predict who will be the lead back, adding Feaster should ensure that another Belk Bowl performance doesn’t happen, which should at least keep the Gamecocks in most games this year.
Regardless of how well Bentley and the offense do, the defense will need to make some stops to keep the Gamecocks afloat. Most preseason reports are glowing for the front four of the Gamecocks, and they’ll need to put a lot of pressure on opposing QB’s to help out their secondary. The Gamecocks forced 6 interceptions last year, but half of those were by cornerback Rashad Fenton who graduated last spring. Turnovers and constant pressure will be the key for Will Muschamp’s defense, especially against the top seeded teams. If the defense can force teams into turnovers, Bentley and the improved rushing attack might give the Gamecocks a season to remember.
Everyone loves their team in August, but how will they look in December and January? The “cautiosly optimistic” Gamecock prediction I received from handsome Gamecock fan Tom Coughlin was 9-3. If you don’t believe in your team, who will? If the Cock’s go 9-3, they would have to upset two of their five ranked opponents (Alabama, Georgia, A&M, Florida and The Team That Shall Not Be Named) and beat Kentucky for the first time since 2013. Can it happen? I hope so. Will it happen? Time will tell.
My prediction with this ridiculously tough schedule is the Gamecocks win all the games they’re supposed to, finally vanquish Kentucky but fall to all the ranked teams. Not a bold prediction, but a 7-5 season where your five loses are all to ranked teams (including the preseason 1-3) would be a huge win for South Carolina.