What are South Carolina's realistic chances at a divisional title in 2015?
All good things must come to an end.
ESPN’s Greg Ostendorf summed up the current state of South Carolina’s football program by his estimation rather succinctly Tuesday, epitomizing the national media’s offseason take on the Gamecocks’ 2015 chances.
Titled ‘SEC program in decline: South Carolina’, I agree — to an extent — with the popular narrative surrounding Steve Spurrier’s team as a group that won’t likely contend for a league championship this season, but I’ll stop short from calling the Gamecocks dead in the water.
One year removed from South Carolina’s first Top 5 finish in well over a century means the program is on the outs? That’s a bit of an overreaction, don’t you think?
I’m selling the Gamecocks as a title contender, but I wouldn’t quantify that belief as having no chance in a weak Eastern Division. Outside of Georgia, the other four teams with a shot to finish near the top of the division share a few common similarities, all with obvious deficiencies coming in.
Tennessee hasn’t won more than seven games since 2007 and gave up a league-worst 43 sacks last fall. Forced to replace its top two players defensively in Shane Ray and Markus Golden, two-time defending division champion Mizzou is down two additional starters along the defensive front and have some questions offensively.
And Florida, well, the Gators are in rebuild mode under a first-year coach.
Crippled by uncertainty with a 70-year-old head coach, South Carolina’s value is so low right now that you’d see a decent return on your investment if you went against Vegas oddsmakers and took the over on the Gamecocks’ season.
Let’s look at a few variables and see if there’s a chance Spurrier’s team challenges in the East:
South Carolina’s division title variables
- Must get to the open date (Oct. 24) with one or fewer SEC losses
- Must have solid play at two positions offensively — quarterback and wide receiver
- Must establish some semblance of consistent pass rush from the front four
If the Gamecocks meet the criteria mentioned above, South Carolina has a shot at exceeding outside expectations and pushing Spurrier closer to Bear Bryant’s all-time SEC win total.
Arriving at the open date with a single league blemish or fewer may be the stiffest challenge all year. The Gamecocks’ schedule is front-loaded with games against Georgia, Mizzou and LSU within a four-week span prior to a home matchup with Vanderbilt on Oct. 17.
The reason I’ve labeled the first five SEC games so important is the fact that South Carolina’s margin for error dwindles to zero after the bye week. Consecutive road trips to College Station and Knoxville down the stretch would spell doom for the Gamecocks if history repeats itself.
Since 2010, South Carolina is 26-14 overall against SEC competition during the regular season, but nine of those losses have come away from Williams-Brice Stadium.
Road games wrecked the 2012 and 2013 seasons, keeping Spurrier’s team away from the SEC title game and BCS invites. They could do the same this fall since the Gamecocks have the toughest slate outside of Columbia, S.C., in the East.