Archive for August, 2012

It’s not football season until I try to lower your expectations about the Gamecocks, right? Okay, you don’t have to answer that question. This could really be a season like no other. Because of that, I think we need to look a little deeper at what to expect. (Translation: I’m just making up an excuse to write more) We’ll split this preview up into three parts:

Part 1: Where is this team in the national pecking order?
Part 2: 1st half predictions
Part 3: 2nd half predictions and other useless stuff

For those of you just joining us, we are officially in the second half of the season (prediction wise). Five weeks of pure bliss ended with a loss to Georgia. What makes the loss even less awesome is that it comes right at the beginning of a Georgia-LSU-Florida gauntlet. Is it weird that I’m talking about this stuff as if it actually already happened? Are you ready for me to dive into the rest of the schedule? Yeah, that’s what I thought.

October 13: @ LSU
Full disclosure: I don’t think LSU is very good. Yeah, they won a lot of games by a large margin last year, but I think they’re closer to the team that looked constipated in the rematch against Alabama than the team who blew out Georgia/Oregon/West Virginia/Arkansas. It’s not as if the Tigers are a team full of scrubs, but I think that they’re rather beatable. Of course, it takes quite the effort to win in Baton Rogue, but it’s definitely not impossible (Just ask Stony Brook!!!). I fully believe that South Carolina will WIN this game. Not much doubt in my mind, actually. I’d go on about how I predicted the win in 2009 against (then) 4th ranked Ole Miss and in 2010 against (then) top ranked Alabama, but that’s not necessary. LSU is doomed in this game because their starting quarterback is trying to be Ben Roethlisberger, and not in a good way. You won’t win big college football games with those guys. (I’m sure you CAN win with those guys, but work with me here, folks)

October 20: @ Florida
I’d say that this would end the toughest part of South Carolina’s schedule, but it’s not like Tennessee + Arkansas + Clemson aren’t still on the schedule. Wanna know some crazy things about playing Florida?
-A win would mean that South Carolina has beaten Florida three times in a row
-A win would mean that South Carolina has won at Gainesville twice in a row. There has never been another SEC East opponent to ever do that. Ever. (I just spent way too much time on the Florida media guide looking up that fact)
-South Carolina’s 53 points in their last two wins against Florida still would not have been enough to beat Florida in 2009 (a 56-6 loss).
So, I’ve mentioned a few times that this is a season of insane expectations. It’s little things like this WIN at Florida that can exceed even the most lofty of expectations.

October 27: vs. Tennessee
As a fan of college football, there’s a lot to like about Tennessee: Smokey, Peyton Manning, beautiful Neyland Stadium, the Rocky Top fight song, and Derek Dooley’s amazing hair + custom tailored orange pants. It’s too bad that the Volunteers haven’t been very good for the past few years, because it seems like the fan base is fairly reasonable expectation-wise. Tennessee has a great quarterback and…well, uh, I like it when they wear the white tops and orange pants. And who can dislike Smokey? Anyway, the Gamecocks will WIN this game.

November 10: vs. Arkansas
It’s the final “Never Forget” game of the season. I’d argue that South Carolina played worse in the loss to Auburn last year, but obviously losing 44-28 “looks” worse than losing 16-13. The most frustrating thing about losing to Arkansas last year is that I don’t think the Razorbacks are that good. They benefited from being in the same division as LSU and Alabama. This is not to say that they don’t have good players—Tyler Wilson and Knile Davis are not scrubs. But if you think that you’re getting a good result out of a football team coached by John L. Smith, then you’ve got another thing coming. This will be a relatively easy WIN.

November 17: vs. Wofford
(Guess who just realized his birthday falls on a Friday this year?!!?!!?!!?!!?) If Congress wants to meddle in sports, perhaps eliminating these cash grab games (usually the lesser team gets a six figure payday to come and be beaten badly) would be worth the effort. It’s not like they succeeded at eliminating PEDs from baseball, so why not take a stab at something else. Oh yeah, I think this will be a WIN.

November 24: @ Clemson
This has to be the most anticipated meeting with Clemson in at least the past 10 years, right? You know the back story, maybe:
-South Carolina beats Clemson 34-17
-Todd Ellis says something that he thought Steve Spurrier said, and people ran with it
-Turns out Steve Spurrier didn’t say it (I guess)?
-No one tells Dabo Swinney this, who then says stuff about the real USC and real Carolina and real pulled pork and real breasts
-Everyone in the state of South Carolina gets lathered up and their panties in a wad at the same time. State unity, y’all!
Of course, both teams come into the season with high expectations. Would the National Guard be called in if both teams are 10-1 (or 11-0) coming into this game? Would people outside of the state of South Carolina give a crap? It should be noted that Clemson still has a solid upper hand in the overall series, but the Gamecocks have won the last three. A 4th consecutive win would probably get Dabo Swinney fired would be the first time that was done by the Gamecocks in almost 50 years. It would also legitimize the team. Get through an SEC schedule with just one loss and beat your in-state rival? Not bad, guys. Not bad at all. WIN

Loose ends
-While I’m not predicting any postseason games at this point, I do think the Gamecocks will make it to the SEC Championship. I think Georgia loses at Missouri and against Florida.
-I think you will see Lou Holtz literally drool on television this year.
-I believe that Erin Andrews will always have great hair, as will Derek Dooley.
-A white quarterback will win the Heisman trophy. Been too long of a drought for those guys.
-You will hear the word “physical” somewhere around 4098 times in a football game before mid September.

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It’s not football season until I try to lower your expectations about the Gamecocks, right? Okay, you don’t have to answer that question. This could really be a season like no other. Because of that, I think we need to look a little deeper at what to expect. (Translation: I’m just making up an excuse to write more) We’ll split this preview up into three parts:

Part 1: Where is this team in the national pecking order?
Part 2: 1st half predictions
Part 3: 2nd half predictions and other useless stuff

So, have you taken a look at the schedule yet? Because I’m a man who’s about full disclosure, I’ve probably looked at the schedule 4 times before today. In a related story, I wasn’t really excited about football season until about a week ago. Anyway, the typical September cupcake feast (excluding the opener, which happens in August anyway so it doesn’t count) gives way to a pretty brutal October (vs. Georgia, at LSU, at Florida) and the typical end of season challenge (hosting Tennessee, Arkansas and Wofford and traveling to Clemson). It’s not necessarily easy street, but that’s a good thing. Win 9 games, and the team is sure to be looked upon favorably by the pollsters. Win 10 or more games, and you’re a contender. Go 7-5? Well, “the schedule was difficult”. It’s a win-win, you guys!!! Anyway, let’s see how this season turns out, shall we?

August 30: @ Vanderbilt (Thursday)
I will forever be terrified of Thursday night games. At least America doesn’t have to suffer through listening to and looking at Craig James. (For what it’s worth, I do like David Pollack quite a bit. I appreciate any guy that can effectively use the word “cat” in a sentence, yet not in reference to the animal.) Anyway, you can actually say “Vanderbilt has a decent team” and actually mean it. Jordan Rodgers is a decent QB who should only improve, and if you have time to have a dance off during a team meeting, well, I think you’re doing something right. However, I think the Gamecocks have enough to overcome whatever the Commodores may throw at them. Try as they might, the Gamecocks have yet to lose an opener under Steve Spurrier. I think that continues here. WIN

September 8: vs. East Carolina
So, it looks like the Gamecocks will travel to Greenville to play the Pirates in…2015. That’s right around the corner! Now that things have shifted to a “playoff“, I really hope that the Gamecocks will start to schedule legitimate opponents for the non conference portion of the schedule. (And you can take your “but the SEC schedule is tough enough!” nonsense and shove it up your ass. I’m not sorry I said that.) Of course, the Gamecocks are not alone in “soft-ish” scheduling:
-USC Trojans (They’re the “realer” USC): Host Hawaii and Syracuse
-Oregon: Host Arkansas State and Tennessee Tech. Who? Exactly.
-Florida State: Hosting Murray State and Savannah State
-Oklahoma State: Hosting Savannah State and Louisiana-Lafayette. Savannah State is popular, it seems!
-Clemson: Hosting Ball State and Furman
Sure, you can argue that “everybody else is doing it”. That doesn’t make the actual game any more exciting. Anyway, East Carolina made the Gamecocks sweat for a while, and lost by a wide margin even though South Carolina turned it over approximately 59 times. The first game jitters should be out of the way, so this will be a WIN.

September 15: vs. UAB
The Blazers are no strangers to being a sacrificial lamb playing South Carolina in September. And, given that South Carolina didn’t have a good result the last time they were in Birmingham, I can see why this game is usually played in Columbia (that and, well, who wants to watch a football game in Birmingham?!!? I don’t know anything about UAB, and I’m not sure that I really *need* to know anything. What I do know is that this should be a rather easy WIN for the Gamecocks.

September 22: vs. Missouri
It’s the first game of the season (that I’m actually interested in)!!! This game probably got 42 times easier knowing that Henry Josey won’t be playing. Of course, I didn’t know who Henry Josey was before ten minutes ago. I really feel like Missouri is an intriguing team this year. I think they’re playing with house money (who knows what that means? I don’t) as a new member of the division, and it’s not like they’re a terrible squad. I think they’re better than Kentucky, Florida and Tennessee. They host Georgia, and they’ve beaten a top ranked Oklahoma in Columbia (Missouri) before. I think this should be a WIN for South Carolina, but only because they’re in “Never Forget” mode about the 2005 Independence Bowl. I really feel like this game could go either way. (Okay, maybe I’m the only person still bitter about that game. Whatever.)

September 29: @ Kentucky
This is a “Never Forget” game also. South Carolina rolled into Lexington in 2010 fresh off a win over (at the time) top ranked Alabama. After building a 28-10 lead, things fell apart. And by “fell apart”, I mean “the winning TD catch was caught by Kentucky’s best player who was WIDE OPEN“. While I believe that every conference road game presents a unique set of challenges, I still think that South Carolina is better than Kentucky. Doesn’t that still count for something? WIN

October 6: vs. Georgia
Did you know the Gamecocks play 9 weeks in a row to open the season? Jesus, be an ice bath! Of course, this is the first of three weeks against ranked (hopefully) opponents. A pu pu platter of Georgia, LSU, and Florida isn’t necessarily the most fun way to celebrate the midpoint in the season. To be honest with you, I’d rather play this game earlier in the season. Every good team has usually hit their stride come October, so the advantage of “not finding your groove yet” won’t be there for this game. I think this game will be a LOSS for a few reasons:
1. While Mark Richt has probably already lost control of the season, hard to think he could survive three losses in a row to South Carolina.
2. Georgia seems to find a way to win in Columbia. All of the time! I was there for the Blackout in 2004, only to see a 16-0 lead evaporate before our very eyes. That was sad.
(Okay, so maybe I only have two reasons. Whatever.)
I think the Gamecocks have a great team. I just don’t see that team starting out 6-0. I’d rather be wrong, but we shall see.

Check back for Part 3 to read how I see the rest of the season shaking out

What are the chances that we see another happy splash like this at the end of this season?

It’s not football season until I try to lower your expectations about the Gamecocks, right? Okay, you don’t have to answer that question. This could really be a season like no other. Because of that, I think we need to look a little deeper at what to expect. (Translation: I’m just making up an excuse to write more) We’ll split this preview up into three parts:

Part 1: Where is this team in the national pecking order?
Part 2: 1st half predictions
Part 3: 2nd half predictions and other useless stuff

How good is this team? No, really.
I imagine that you have some pretty fond memories of last season. The Gamecocks finished 11-2 and beat Nebraska in the Capital One Citrus Bowl, 30-13. First 11 win season in school history, (second double-digit win total overall, more on that later) best final poll ranking ever. Here are some other, um, accolades:
-Wins against Georgia, Tennessee, Florida and Clemson in the same season
-Connor Shaw finished second in the SEC in passer rating
-Marcus Lattimore missed the final 6.5 games of the year, yet finished 7th in the SEC in rushing yards
-Went undefeated vs. division opponents
-Beat Clemson for the 3rd year in a row
-Went on a legitimate run *after* losing the returning passer and rusher from the previous season

So, all of these things were great. No, really, they were. Hell, the HBC even gave the team rings (I’m not so sure if that’s the finished product) for their accomplishments. But since I’m supposed to be about perspective, let’s have just a little:
-In the loss to Auburn, the Tigers ran about 238 plays, and the Gamecocks were peeing their pants instead of driving down the field to either tie or take the lead.
-The team got rings for winning, among other things, the Citrus Bowl—which was played in front of about 10,000 empty seats. The Citrus Bowl is still played on New Year’s Day, which is great. But, it’s probably a 3rd tier game at best.
(So maybe it’s hard to really nitpick here. That’s not so bad!)

Anyway, the heights reached last season were dizzying, to say the least. But you have to wonder “Now what?”, right? Is it time to take another step into the rare air of “top five national title contender”, or did South Carolina miss out on taking charge while teams like Florida and Tennessee struggled? Will 11 wins and another 3rd tier (or second tier) bowl game be enough? How quickly would the city burn to the ground if the Gamecocks won the SEC Championship? Will this be a letdown season? What actually qualifies as a “letdown”? Since things could go either way, I’ll yo-yo between signs of a promising season and signs of a letdown. Let’s face it, folks: The “what if” game is really fun!!

Letdown Sign: Breakthrough years are sometimes followed up with breakdown years.
While I may have still been in diapers, I’m sure some of you are quite familiar with the Black Magic season of 1984. At that time, it was the best season EVAR for the Gamecocks. Wins over Georgia, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Florida State and Clemson led to a 10-2 record and a birth in the Gator Bowl against Oklahoma State. That next year? Not so awesome. And no, this isn’t just a South Carolina thing:
-Georgia Tech went 11-3 and to the Orange Bowl in 2008, only to go 6-7 in 2009.
-Kansas went 11-1 and won the Orange Bowl in 2007, but fell to 8-5 in 2008.
-Illinois made it to the Sugar Bowl with a 10-2 record in 2001, but fell to 5-7 in 2002.
-Maryland won 31 games (and the ACC once!) from 2001-03, only to go 5-6 in both 2004 and 2005.
-Ole Miss tripped (sorry, Eli) to 10-3 and the Cotton Bowl in 2003, only to go 4-7 in 2004.
(Of course, these are not elite programs in the slightest. Makes for great comparison to the Gamecocks, you guys.)
I understand that South Carolina went 9-5 in 2010, but if you recall how those last two games turned out, 2010 was definitely a breakthrough. Also, take a guess for how many 9 win seasons South Carolina has had in their history. Still guessing? The answer is 3. By comparison, Oklahoma has had 32 ten win seasons. So, yeah—last year was a breakthrough. Unfortunately, history isn’t very kind to that sort of thing.

Next Level Sign: Stability
For the first time in something like 309 years, Steve Spurrier has a quarterback that he’s pleased with. As I noted before, Connor Shaw was second in the conference in pass efficiency. The offense is no longer just a “See how far Marcus runs, pop five or six hemorrhoids, then throw it deep to Alshon Jeffrey” (my unbiased scout’s take). The offense has a foundation of the zone read, and there are capable receivers around to keep the defense from focusing on just one. Instead of going outside to get a defensive coordinator after Ellis Johnson left for Southern Miss, the team promoted Lorenzo Ward. Nothing “feels” different around here. That’s not really a bad thing at all.

Letdown Sign: Injuries
Okay, so injuries happen. And college football teams carry something like 174 players, so if someone gets hurt then the backup comes in and you’re set, no problem. There’s only one problem: It never works out that way. There is a general consensus that Marcus Lattimore is one of the best running backs in the country. Of course, he missed half of last year with a serious knee injury. I say serious knee injury because the school never said what actually happened to his knee. While there’s plenty of reason to think that Lattimore will play great this year, production after a serious knee injury isn’t really an exact science. Also, do you remember that Connor Shaw suffered two concussions last season (against Arkansas and Nebraska)? The more we learn about head injuries, the worse that sounds…right? Don’t let the drafting of Stephon Gilmore fool you, the South Carolina secondary was not awesome last year. Of course, now the team is down one starter in that part of the defense already. Again, injuries happen. But when thy happen to a team expected to actually do well, um…

Next Level Sign: About those expectations…
Sure, South Carolina starts the season ranked in the Top 10. Football Outsiders says the most likely result for the Gamecocks is 8-4. The average projected wins (still through Football Outsiders—they may be nerds, but they’re usually not wrong) is 7.7, which is lowest among any of the other teams ranked in the top 10. The media members who attended SEC’s media days think that Georgia will win the division. (Of course, Andy Staples favors the Gamecocks) From what I’ve seen, Sports Illustrated is the only major publication that has Georgia ranked below South Carolina (I need to renew my subscription!). Of course, since I have “Great Hype Falls Hard” tattooed on my chest, I think this is great news! If South Carolina continues to win, they’ll surely climb the rankings by default (because at least 3 of the teams ahead in the rankings will lose at some point). This “lying in the weeds” status is just the thing to lead to something awesome. And yes, I used the word “awesome”.

Letdown Sign: IT’S SOUTH CAROLINA!
I was going to use the schedule as a letdown factor, but I “knew” that LSU would likely be on the schedule this season, and The Swamp is only intimidating if Florida is actually good (that remains to be seen). As I mentioned before, the Gamecocks had only had three NINE win seasons, ever. Remember the mostly likely scenario I mentioned before? That would be the 11th eight win season ever. I will agree with you if you were to say that this has been a healthy growth for the Gamecocks. But, of course, that’s not the most difficult thing to do when you’re 11 games over .500—-all time. Remember those “successful” basketball teams from the late nineties? Flamed out in the first round. Even the back-to-back champion baseball team went down in a cloud of Asian-American + gigantic strike zone dust to Arizona. This is just guessing, but I believe there are more people who believe in non football forces (karma, the “football gods”, luck, the moon) when rooting for their team(s). Well, that sort of stuff has never really been on the side of the Gamecocks. There’s a certain Cubs/Clippers/Mets/Maple Leafs aura to the Gamecocks that just hasn’t been shaken…ever. Everything is seemingly in place now. Will that matter, though?

Here’s hoping that I’ve worked you up into a nice enough lather in order to read my predictions for every game next season. To be continued.