South Carolina Football: Countdown to kickoff – 3

The 2014 college football season kicks off in 178 hours and counting. For South Carolina football, preparation for Texas A&M began on Monday, meaning the coaches have a good idea of how the depth chart will look and what to expect from their respective units on August 28th. Since practices have been closed for the last two weeks however, those of us in the general public and the media have nothing to do but read these columns and speculate among ourselves. That said, here are 7 questions that will hopefully make for entertaining and provocative discussions over the next 7 days:

3) Which games should scare Gamecock fans most?

Scare may be the wrong word, considering that the Auburn game will likely be the only game in which the Gamecocks will not be favored, and it will not make this list. Nor will the Texas A&M game or the Clemson game because those are games that simply cannot and will not be overlooked.

All things considered, the Gamecock’s have a very favorable schedule in 2014, as they get Texas A&M, Georgia, and Missouri at home, and though they have to face the defending SEC Champion Auburn Tigers in The Plains, drawing A&M as their other Western Division opponent is preferable to Alabama, LSU, or even Ole Miss.

That said, and without further ado, here are the three games that Gamecock fans should circle on their calendars:

1) East Carolina

I’ll give you a moment to post scathing comments…seriously go ahead, I’ll wait…

K.

South Carolina has traditionally struggled in games that they should win comfortably, and though struggling against mid-majors is far from what Gamecock fans have gotten used to under Spurrier, there is almost always one game in which South Carolina lays an egg. Last year, it was Tennessee.

East Carolina will be a respectable opponent, who will look to get the ball out on the edges quickly with short passes and screens. The Pirates biggest strength matches up well with what could be the Gamecock’s biggest weakness: inexperience on the perimeter. Three of the top five cornerbacks on the depth chart, which was announced yesterday, are true freshman, and one is sophomore.

Offensively, South Carolina should have no problem putting up points, but this could be a troubling matchup for Lorenzo Ward’s unit. More than that though, it is the timing of the game that could be worrisome: following their season opener against SEC opponent Texas A&M and right before the Georgia game, always a huge game for both teams.

This has all the makings of a classic trap game.

2) Georgia

No matter how good either team is, this game (almost) always comes down to the wire, in what has become one of the great SEC rivalries. The Bulldogs find themselves in a similar situation to the Gamecocks with fifth-year senior Hutson Mason ready to take over after shadowing Aaron Murray for several years.

Coupled with a fantastic rushing attack, led by early Heisman hopeful Todd Gurley, and what is expected to be a stout defense, the Gamecocks will feel like they are competing against their mirror image.

The game will be played at Williams-Brice this year, which will give the Gamecocks an advantage, and they will be looking to duplicate the success that they had the last time Willy-B played host to the Bulldogs, when they trounced a then no. 5 Georgia team 35-7.

Come September 13, the setup could be eerily similar, as both teams could be ranked in the Top 10, and, if both teams are 2-0, will likely once again be where the College Gameday crew ends up.

Could the Gamecocks make a clinic of it once again at home, or could the Bulldogs spoil the party?

3) Florida

In the Swamp.

Gulp.

Anyone that thinks 4-6 was anything other than a hilarious fluke is mistaken. Like October 5, 1582, it never happened. (Seriously awesome historical anecdote: Pope Gregory XIII issued an executive order in 1582 that basically said, the day after October 4 was going to be October 15, just for that year.)

Even at home against a Florida team that would go on to lose to Georgia Southern, the Gamecocks had to come from behind, relying primarily on the leg of their 150-pound (he is officially listed as 165, but he looks more like 125, so I smudged the number a little) walk-on kicker to eek out a 19-14 win.

Defense has never been the problem with Florida, and even though Kurt Roper’s entrance as offensive coordinator cannot change the fact that Jeff Driskel is just not a good quarterback, he can put his offense in a position to let the defense win games.

And again, the game will be played in The Swamp, one of the consistently toughest places in the country to play.

If* the offense can get its act together and at least not shoot itself in the foot, this Gator team, which is always a tough matchup, could not only get to the point where they could challenge for an Eastern Division Title, they could be more than capable of knocking off the Gamecocks.

*I feel obliged to acknowledge that this is a HUGE what-if. 

Be sure to check out the rest of the countdown right here!