Predicting the South Carolina Gamecock's 2009 Football Season
How will the team that had seven players drafted in April fare this year?
This year, South Carolina must attempt to rebound from a second straight year with an epic collapse at the end.
After starting out 7-3 last year, the Gamecocks lost their last three games by a combined score of 118-30, including losses to hated rivals Florida and Clemson, and a loss to Iowa from the lowly Big Ten.
The task will not be any easier with the loss of all-time receptions leader Kenny McKinley, the SEC's best tight end in Jared Cook, and first-round talent offensive lineman Jamon Meredith. In addition, they lost defensive leaders Jasper Brinkley, Carlos Thomas, Captain Munnerlyn, and Emanuel Cook.
However, the return of senior LB/DE Eric Norwood and the maturation of QB Stephen Garcia, as well as a top 15 recruiting class, should be enough to get the Cocks to another bowl game.
In this slideshow, I will go through each of USC's games and make a prediction. Later on in the offseason I will write a full-blown preview of every aspect of the team.
Keep in mind that I'm entering my sophomore year at USC, so this will be an extremely biased preview.
Game 1: Sept. 3 @ NC State Wolfpack
For some reason Bleacher Report does not have any current pictures of NC State's football team, so this picture from the 2005 season will have to do.
For the second season in a row, USC vs. NC State is the season opener for all of college football.
Last year, USC blanked NC State 34-0 at Williams-Brice Stadium. They were aided in this effort when Wolfpack QB Russell Wilson went out with a concussion midway through the second quarter. At that point the game was 3-0.
Don't expect the same result this year. NC State is a much better team than they were at the beginning of last season. Once freshman QB Russell Wilson hit his stride, they became a much better team, winning their last four games to make the PapaJohns.com Bowl. Also, this year the game is in Raleigh, so the Gamecocks won't have the home field advantage.
Despite all this, I still expect the Cocks to win.
Wilson has never faced a defense of USC's caliber, so don't expect any performances like he had near the end of last year. That plus the stronger receiving corps, running backs, offensive line, and play of of QB Stephen Garcia, plus the large amount of Gamecock fans that will travel to Raleigh, and USC should be able to win.
24-10 USC (1-0)
Game 2: Sept. 12 @ Georgia Bulldogs
USC vs. Georgia is always a great game.
Last year, #2 Georgia beat USC 14-7 in Columbia. The Cocks were two yards away from tying the game up in the final minutes when former RB Mike Davis fumbled into the end zone.
In 2007, USC beat #12 Georgia 16-12 in Athens.
This year, the teams are going in two different directions. While South Carolina is full of young talent on the rise, Georgia is trying to replace #1 pick Matthew Stafford and #12 pick Knowshon Moreno.
This will be tough to do, as Stafford and Moreno created arguably the most dynamic QB-RB combo in the country.
This game should be a good one. Depending on what USC does against NC State, they could easily win this game.
I think we're in for another classic.
17-14 USC (2-0, 1-0 SEC)
Game 3: Sept. 19 vs. Florida Atlantic Owls
Florida Atlantic should be an easy win for the Gamecocks.
While they do have a good QB in senior Rusty Smith, they are still a cupcake team on USC's schedule. This is also the first game at Williams-Brice, so the crowd will be pumped.
35-7 USC (3-0, 1-0 SEC)
Game 4: Sept. 24 vs. Ole Miss Rebels
This will be an epic game.
Thursday night at Williams-Brice, top 10 team vs. great home team.
If you don't think the home crowd will be pumped for this, i don't know what to tell you.
Last year, USC went into Oxford and beat Ole Miss 31-24, one week after Ole Miss took down Tim Tebow and Florida. Ole Miss led 14-3 after the first quarter, but freshman WR Jason Barnes erupted for seven catches, two touchdowns, and 76 yards, all while sustaining a concussion.
South Carolina will have to stop dual-threat QB Jevan Snead if they have any chance of winning. With Carolina's defense I think this will be possible, but I still think Ole Miss will win a tight one.
21-17 Ole Miss (3-1, 1-1 SEC)
Game 5: Oct. 3 vs. South Carolina State Bulldogs
This is the biggest cupcake on South Carolina's schedule. After struggling against Wofford and their option attack last year, the Cocks get a guaranteed win this year.
31-3 USC (4-1, 1-1 SEC)
Game 6: Oct. 10 vs. Kentucky Wildcats
This isn't a guaranteed win, but the Cocks should still be able to win pretty convincingly.
Kentucky has some outstanding receivers, but their QB situation is a mess. They also have a pretty strong defense that could give Carolina some trouble, but in the end USC will leave with a victory.
28-14 USC (5-1, 2-1 SEC)
Game 7: Oct. 17 @ Alabame Crimson Tide
Alabama is looking to have another strong season despite the loss of QB John Parker Wilson and RB Glen Coffee.
With the #1 recruiting class in the country, it's safe to say they won't be hurting too bad. Add in WR Julio Jones having a season under his belt, and Alabama is once again a top-ten team.
This game will come down to whether or not South Carolina's DBs can shut down Jones. If they can, then Carolina has a shot at winning. If not, it will be a long day.
28-20 Alabama (5-2, 2-2 SEC)
Game 8: Oct. 24 vs. Vanderbilt Commodores
Vanderbilt should be an easy win. However, Vanderbilt has beat USC the last two years, both times ruining Carolina's dream season.
Last year, Carolina came into Nashville fresh off a blowout of NC State and with a brand new #24 ranking. They left with a 24-17 loss.
In 2007, the Gamecocks were in the middle of a dream season when Vanderbilt came to Columbia for Parents' Weekend. The Cocks were ranked #8 in the country with a 6-1 record, their only loss being to eventual National Champion LSU, and two wins over top 15 teams.
Vanderbilt was the cupcake scheduled so the parents could see a win. Everything went horribly wrong, as Vandy stunned Carolina with a 17-6 win. South Carolina's season was derailed, as they lost their next four games, finishing 6-6 and not making a bowl game.
This year, Spurrier and the rest of the coaching staff will make sure the players don't overlook the Commodores. Plus, Vandy lost their star playmaker in WR DJ Moore to the draft, so this year Carolina should actually win.
24-7 USC (6-2, 3-2 SEC)
Game 9: Oct. 31 @ Tennessee Volunteers
Here's the good news for Vols fans: this won't be as bad as the Florida game.
Now for the bad news: you will still lose by five touchdowns.
UcheaT UT head coach Lane Kiffin has drawn flack from all sides for his brash comments, questionable recruiting practices, and for being a bad person in general.
He drew the ire of Steve Spurrier after claiming that he had never received an apology from Spurrier over a comment Spurrier made earlier. At the SEC spring conference, Spurrier confronted Kiffin about it, and Kiffin looked foolish and embarrassed as he tried to avoid the question.
Earlier, he had allegedly called South Carolina recruit Alshon Jeffrey, who was spurning Tennessee to sign with USC, the night before signing day, and told him that if he went to South Carolina he would be "pumping gas for the rest of his life". This was just another thing to be added to the long list of questionable acts in Kiffin's short time at UT.
With all these reasons to want to embarrass Kiffin, don't expect Spurrier to pull the starters at anytime, leading to the blowout.
As for the actual football aspect of things, it seems like these days the only player on Tennessee with any talent that hasn't been accused of rape is Eric Berry, and a safety can only do so much. Last year, USC beat up on UT 27-6, and that was a worse Gamecock squad and a better Vols squad.
While this has nothing to do with this preview, Florida will lay 70 on Kiffin and the Vols.
42-6 USC (7-2, 4-2 SEC)
Game 10: Nov. 7 @ Arkansas Razorbacks
This game should be a win for the Gamecocks, but it won't come easy.
Last year, the Gamecocks beat Arkansas 34-21 in Columbia with the help of Michael Phelps, although the game was not as close as it appeared. The game also ended in a fight in which Gamecock safety Chris Culliver got ejected.
Last year, Arkansas was suffering without Darren McFadden and Felix Jones, and finished 5-7. This year's team will be much better, especially with the addition of Michigan transfer Ryan Mallet at QB. Mallet was never totally accepted at Michigan, and when he left the student population was extremely happy, so he there's a great chance he will never live up to his hype.
In addition to Mallet, the Razorbacks have senior RB Michael Smith, coming off a 1,000 yard season. So, Arkansas will have a dynamic Arkansas. In addition, they have a solid defense that is very good at stopping the run, which could cause problems for Jarvis Giles, Eric Baker, and the USC O-line.
However, South Carolina is too talented for Arkansas and should be able to overcome them and the raucous Fayetteville crowd.
24-17 USC (8-2, 5-2 SEC)
Game 11: Nov. 14 vs. Florida Gators
I'm not gonna lie, I do not have much hope for this game.
Last year, South Carolina went into The Swamp and got demolished 56-6. At least we scored.
This year, it will not be that bad, but I still think we will lose. Even without Percy Harvin, the Gators still have Jesus Tebow. Honestly, at this point I wouldn't be surprised if he left Williams-Brice during the game and walked across the Congaree River.
Florida is obviously the best team in the country, and will probably repeat as National Champions.
However, they do have some flaws that South Carolina can exploit, and if they are able to have a great game while Florida has a terrible game, they can win.
This plus the fact that Williams-Brice will be rocking will keep the Gamecocks within seven at halftime, but I expect Florida to pull away in the second half.
42-21 Gators (8-3, 5-3 SEC)
Game 12: Nov. 28 vs. Clemson Tigers
The Big One.
South Carolina vs. Clemson. Gamecocks vs. Tigers. Spurrier vs. Swinney. Garcia vs. Korn. Cocky vs. The Tiger. Good vs. Evil. Smart vs. Illiterate. Hot Girls vs. Cows. You get the idea.
This is the most hated rivalry in sports. Michigan-Ohio State, Texas-Oklahoma, and Alabama-Auburn might all have a lot of hatred, but have any of those rivalries involved a military takeover of one school by the other school's ROTC?
Last year Clemson embarrassed USC 31-14 in the "intimidating" Memorial Stadium. This year, Spurrier will make sure the troops are ready and there won't be anyone quitting on the team this year.
Also, Clemson is not nearly as good this year as they were last year, and they weren't very good last year. While Cullen Harper was nowhere near an excellent QB, he was at the very least competent. It remains to be seen if Willy Korn is the same. I can tell you this, he definitely isn't smart, so expect some stupid plays.
In addition, Clemson lost running back James Davis to the draft, but kept CJ Spiller. Spiller may be good, but how good will he be without being able to take series off for Davis and with teams being able to gameplan solely for him.
They also lost safety Michael Hamlin, a playmaker who had a pick in last year's game.
They do still have some talent. Spiller is still a good back without Davis, and Jacoby Ford is a dynamic receiver/returner who is capable of breaking a game open.
However, South Carolina's defense will be able to shut down Spiller, and if they can limit the damage done by Ford they will be fine. If Garcia and the rest of the offense perform well, this will be a somewhat easy win over the hated Tigers.
21-10 USC (9-3, 5-3 SEC)
So at the end of the year, the Gamecocks should be 9-3 overall and 5-3 in the SEC with losses to Ole Miss, Alabama, and Florida.
Out of those three games, they have a very good shot at beating Ole Miss and Bama, and could possibly shock Florida if the ball bounces their way a few times.
With a 9-3 record, the Gamecocks should be looking at another New Year's Day bowl, hopefully the Capital One Bowl instead of the Outback Bowl.
It should be a fun season.