I’m not a hot seat guy.
I’m not about to sit here and pretend that I know that ins and outs of every single coach’s job security. There are relationships with athletic directors, both public and private, that have way more of a bearing on a coach’s job than the general public realizes. For that reason, I try to refrain from assuming a coach is on the proverbial hot seat, unless we hear or see a comment from an athletic director that sheds some light on that.
I am, however, a perception guy. That is, I have interest in whether a fan base believes in a coach as the long-term fit.
Everything I’m about to discuss as it relates to Will Muschamp is based on perception. Right now, there seems to be a fair perception of Muschamp. He deserves a ton of credit for cleaning up the mess that Steve Spurrier left in 2015, yet it’s fair to wonder if Muschamp’s teams can ever get to the level that Spurrier’s did in Columbia.
We’re entering Year 4 of the Muschamp era, and there’s a major hurdle for him to overcome.
The perception is going to be that South Carolina has a difficult 2019 schedule. Why? It’s basically as brutal as an SEC East schedule can get. The Gamecocks have crossover draws against preseason Top 10 teams Alabama and Texas A&M. They’ll also travel to Georgia and host a Clemson team coming off one of the most dominant seasons we’ve seen in the 21st century.
But wait, there’s more!
There’s also the matchup with preseason Top 10 Florida — that’s 5 games vs. preseason Top 10 teams if you’re keeping track — as well as an early-season trip to preseason Top 25 Mizzou. There’s also a date with the Kentucky team that Muschamp is 0-3 against, and South Carolina opens with North Carolina. Even though the Gamecocks will be favored to beat UNC and spoil Mack Brown’s return to Chapel Hill, that means South Carolina is one of the few SEC teams with 10 games against Power 5 teams in 2019.
Starting to get the picture? South Carolina’s schedule is daunting. Like, get up to the podium at SEC Media Days and declare it the toughest in the nation daunting.
Muschamp’s history against quality opponents suggests 2019 will be more of a mountain than a hurdle to clear.
His numbers against quality foes are, um, not good:
- Lost 10 consecutive vs. ranked opponents
- 1-11 vs. ranked opponents at South Carolina (only win was vs. 2016 Tennessee)
- 5-13 vs. ranked opponents at Florida
- 6-24 overall vs. ranked opponents
And actually, Muschamp went 4-2 vs. ranked opponents during his second year in Gainesville. So in the 6 years excluding that 2012 season, he is 2-22 against ranked teams.
South Carolina, as you recall, has an SEC-most (tied with Auburn) 6 games against teams that are ranked in ESPN’s Way-Too-Early Top 25. You can argue that those aren’t necessarily perfect indicators of actual strength of schedule, but for the next 7 months, it’s going to look like the Gamecocks have a gauntlet. I mean, 5 preseason Top 10 opponents are on the schedule, including the top 3 in ESPN’s early rankings. Yowza.
When the 2019 season kicks off, it’ll have been nearly 3 years since Muschamp’s last win against a ranked opponent. You won’t see that in any “here’s why you should believe in Muschamp” argument.
What you will see is that he’s coming off 3 consecutive bowl berths. You’ll see something about how Muschamp’s teams in 3 years have a .500 record in SEC play, which isn’t bad considering the Gamecocks were 4-12 in SEC play in the 2 seasons before he arrived.
You might also see is some sort of comparison graphic like this:
If Muschamp gets off to another mediocre start and there are some talks about his long-term future, the supporters will point to Spurrier not getting to the 9-win mark until Year 6. Muschamp, as you recall, already did that (it still counts even if he didn’t beat a ranked opponent to get there).
The difference between the two coaches, obviously, is what they did at Florida. Spurrier’s track record in Gainesville was what allowed him to get patience. And well, let’s be honest. South Carolina, the program that had just 5 Top 25 finishes before Spurrier arrived, wasn’t firing the HBC.
That’s not to say Muschamp needs to get to Spurrier’s level or the Gamecocks should move on. If Muschamp’s bar to meet is 3 consecutive Top 10 finishes, well then that’s just not realistic, especially considering what he inherited.
Obviously he would want to get to the point where the Gamecocks look like yearly SEC contenders, but getting past both Florida and Georgia on a yearly basis looks more challenging than it was at any time in the last decade. It’s because of that reality that unlike in 2018, nobody outside of Columbia is going to pick South Carolina as a sleeper to win the division in 2019.
There’s the flip side of that. Perhaps that can work in Muschamp’s favor. The 2018 season was deemed a disappointment because South Carolina’s schedule looked favorable and with Jake Bentley and Deebo Samuel back, there was hope that a 9-win team could take that next step.
Eight wins with this tough of a schedule would be taking that step for Muschamp. A couple wins against teams like Texas A&M or even Florida would be a sign that while South Carolina isn’t poised to be a juggernaut, it can sneak up on teams and play with just about anyone on any given day.
That’s the perception Muschamp wants by season’s end. He’ll earn a tip of the cap if he can get it.