SDS Crystal Ball: Predicting every South Carolina game for 2016
While Will Muschamp looks over the roster he inherited, Steve Spurrier is somewhere lining up a 15-footer.
At least expected to compete in the East a season ago, South Carolina saw Spurrier retire midseason and then completely collapse afterward. Muschamp’s rebuilding job in Columbia is much bigger than many think.
On offense, the three-headed monster of Connor Mitch, Lorenzo Nunez and Perry Orth disappointed under center. True freshman Brandon McIlwain might be the man Day 1. Defensively, the Gamecocks suffered a blow when linebacker extraordinaire Skai Moore was diagnosed with a herniated disc. He’ll miss this season.
It’s no secret that Spurrier’s recruiting efforts took a slide his last few years in office. Muschamp can get players. He did so while at Florida. But can he lead a team? That’s still up for debate.
South Carolina was picked to finish last in the East at SEC Media Days. It’s hard to see it any other way.
SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS
SDS 2015 projection: 8-4 (4-4)
Actual record: 3-9 (1-7)
Sept. 1 at Vanderbilt (L): If indeed McIlwain is handed the starting job right out of high school, his first assignment is a Commodores team led by fantastic defensive mind Derek Mason.
Sept. 10 at Mississippi State (L): In a battle between potential cellar dwellers in their respective divisions, the cowbells will be loud and proud in Starkville.
Sept. 17 vs. East Carolina (L): The Pirates are one of those sneaky teams you never want to see on your schedule. They beat Virginia Tech and destroyed North Carolina in 2014. They almost beat Florida in 2015. They’ll top the Gamecocks this year.
Sept. 24 at Kentucky (L): Even if UK isn’t ready to go toe to toe with the likes of Florida, Georgia and Tennessee, the Wildcats are the best of the second-tier East programs right now.
Oct. 1 vs. Texas A&M (L): South Carolina has had big trouble getting off the field defensively the past two seasons. The Aggies can be scary if they get into a rhythm throwing the ball.
Oct. 8 vs. Georgia (L): If the Gamecocks had trouble the week before with A&M’s passing game, just wait till UGA’s running back tandem of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel gets loose.
Oct. 22 vs. Massachusetts (W): Finally, a cupcake to help get Muschamp in the win column for the first time in Columbia. He surely never imagined an 0-6 start, though.
Oct. 29 vs. Tennessee (L): If South Carolina is probably the worst team in the East, then the Volunteers are clearly the best team. The Vols should coast, even on the road.
Nov. 5 vs. Missouri (L): Five home games in six weeks only manages to result in one W for Muschamp and Co. McIlwain won’t be comfortable in the pocket facing Mizzou’s front four.
Nov. 12 at Florida (L): With so many of Muschamp’s former players still in Gainesville, you can bet he will be greeted with a stirring effort from them at his one-time home.
Nov. 19 vs. Western Carolina (W): Needing to take it down a notch following three straight losses in league play, the Gamecocks take care of the Catamounts in their home finale.
Nov. 25 at Clemson (L): This may be the biggest talent disparity in the history of the Palmetto State rivalry. Unfortunately for the Gamecocks, the Tigers might prevail 50-0. Clemson’s largest margin of victory in the series is 51.
SDS 2016 projection: 2-10 (0-8)
SEC race: 7th in the East
The Skinny: There are enough resources in Columbia for Muschamp to succeed. Still, it’s going to take time for him to make the program his and fill the roster with SEC-quality bodies again. Nobody thought South Carolina would be so bad last year. But this year, expectations are in short supply.