South Carolina enters the 2022 season with a boatload of optimism. The Gamecocks are confident they can ride the momentum from last year’s 38-21 victory over North Carolina in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl.

Head coach Shane Beamer has his club poised to make a mark with some key pieces back in the puzzle. Their 7-6 record and late-season confidence boost should be able to lift them over the crestline of mediocrity into the next level.

However, the Gamecocks could take a step back or continue to flounder around the .500 mark if situations don’t break their way. It is a scenario that can fall on either side.

Here are 5 dream and 5 disaster scenarios for South Carolina. Let’s start with the positives:

1. The Gamecocks strut to a 5-1 start

In the beginning of the season, Carolina’s schedule is favorable. It registers a predictable and impressive win over Georgia State to kick off the season. USC follows with a strong showing at Arkansas to move to 2-0.

Now comes the shocker. The Gamecocks play their best game in years and rock Williams-Brice Stadium and Columbia with a 24-23 upset of Georgia on a late field goal, their first triumph over the Bulldogs since a 20-17 double-overtime victory in 2019.

They keep their momentum with victories over Charlotte and South Carolina State, but the Gamecocks lose their flight when they suffer their first loss to Kentucky.

2. Spencer Rattler Jr. regains Heisman form

Rattler, who was an early candidate for the 2021 Heisman, shows everyone that his transfer from Oklahoma was a worthy choice. Rattler regains the form that made him one of the more notable quarterbacks a few years ago.

He settles in the pocket early in the season and becomes an equal force to run the ball. Rattler shows the patience and poise to keep the Carolina offense running at its peak level. He has stellar numbers passing and running the ball and evolves into a game changer that turns the program up a few notches.

3. Running game emerges as a steady force

MarShawn Lloyd steps into a major role after he battled back from a torn ACL in 2020. Lloyd gets off to a good start in the opening games, as he is around or over the 100-yard mark. He shows he is the weapon the Gamecocks believed he could be, doubling as a pass-catching threat out of the backfield.

Lloyd tops the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the season. USC also has depth with speedster Juju McDowell and Wake Forest transfer and workhorse Christian Beal-Smith.

4.  Pass defense maintains its excellence

The Gamecocks’ pass defense was ranked  No. 1 in the SEC last season, and it won’t miss a beat this season.

Even though most teams will continue to run the ball, the secondary still will be a stingy unit. Cornerback Cam Smith, who had 3 interceptions and 11 pass breakups, will be back as an anchor. Smith will have another banner season.

Central Michigan transfer Devonni Reed and tackle machine R.J. Roderick will  have stellar seasons to solidify the unit.

5. Pass rush changes the complexion of the defense

The Gamecocks’ pass rush slipped during the 2nd half of the season. It did lose impact player Kingsley Enagbare, but there is depth and experience.

Zacch Pickens and Jordan Strachan will help transform the Gamecocks’ defense that was 6th overall in the conference and allowed 356 yards and 24 points per game last season, as it will take a slight jump up the ladder.

Here are the negatives or the disasters:

1. The Gamecocks stumble out of the gate

They look respectable in their season opener at home against Georgia State, but USC loses a tough game at Arkansas that slips out of its grasp late in the contest.

The Gamecocks come home to face Georgia, and they can’t handle the Bulldogs’ bite in a blowout. They bounce back with a home victory over Charlotte, but Beamer’s club continues to battle inconsistency with a loss to South Carolina State. Its troubles worsen with a loss to Kentucky, as the Gamecocks flounder with a 2-4 mark.

2. Rattler can’t find his mark

Rattler couldn’t totally get on track last season, and he is expected to have a banner season this year.

However, Rattler can’t get in sync with his receivers, and he struggles with his consistency. In turn, his performance has a huge effect on the offense. He remains a turnover-prone quarterback.

Rattler stays in a slump most of the season, and his touchdown-to-interception ratio isn’t a good one. His numbers of 1,483 yards with 11 touchdowns and 5 interceptions from a year ago prove to be slightly better than his 2022 performance.

3. Receiving corps falls flat

Rattler’s troubles lead to a similar situation with the receivers. The highly touted unit fails to reach the lofty preseason expectations.

The corps of Josh Vann, Dakereon Joyner, Jaheim Bell and tight end Austin Stogner combines for worse numbers than expected. Injuries also play a major part in stunting its growth with Rattler. Antwane Wells Jr., the 116-catch, 21-touchdown transfer from James Madison, has an adequate year, but an anticipated blockbuster season turns into a flop.

4. Defense loses its stance

The Gamecocks’ 6th-ranked SEC defense tumbles down a few notches. It supported the offense last season, but it can’t hold up its end this fall.

One of the biggest differences will be seen in the secondary. The top-ranked unit from a year ago is torched for the big play throughout the season. SC’s pass rush, which lost Enagbare, doesn’t improve from a year ago, and it has a trickle-down effect on the defense.

5. Offensive line doesn’t improve

USC’s front 5 was expected to be a seasoned one with a number of veterans back in the fold. But it can’t transition into a cohesive unit, and it can’t help produce an effective enough running game.

Vershon Lee, Jovaughn Gwyn, Eric Douglas, Dylan Wonnum and Jaylen Nichols were viewed as the anchors of the revamped offensive line. They will begin the year as one of the more veteran groups in the conference.

However, their chemistry issue from 2021 has a hangover effect this season.