A big SEC battle is brewing this week when South Carolina and Steve Spurrier confront fourth-ranked Ole Miss.
Here are five reasons why the Gamecocks will shock the world:
1.) Thursday Night Magic at Williams-Brice
For the fifth-straight year—and already for the second time this season—South Carolina will host a Thursday night ESPN game, a gig with which the Gamecocks are quite familiar.
In their seven Thursday night games, the Cocks are 5-2, with the only two losses coming to a tough 2006 Auburn team and a vastly improved 2008 Vanderbilt team.
The Gamecocks’ biggest Thursday night game was the 2007 win against eighth-ranked Kentucky. Behind an explosive home crowd, Carolina made big play after big play en route to a 38-23 win over Andre Woodson and Co.
Meanwhile, Ole Miss visits Columbia for the first time since 2004 and should be greeted by a hostile, out-of-control crowd.
2.) Battle-Tested vs. Creampuff-Tested
This young Gamecock squad got no breaks from the schedule makers, as they hit the road for two tough games to open the season.
The defensive struggle over NC State wasn’t pretty, but they posted the W, and the shootout loss in Athens—a very tough place to win—left the Gamecocks with a bitter taste in their mouths, as time expired with Carolina unable to score from Georgia’s four-yard line.
Last week, Carolina got to showcase its new, young offensive players and rolled up 38 more points against FAU.
Ole Miss, on the other hand, has looked sloppy in its first two games against inferior opponents. The offense was badly out of sync against Memphis, and in a 52-6 victory over outmatched Southeastern Louisiana, the Rebels dropped two touchdown passes and fumbled two punts—mistakes that SEC teams will capitalize on.
If South Carolina can score an early touchdown, it will be interesting to see how an untested Ole Miss group will respond.
Because Carolina doesn’t get the press of other SEC teams, few people know that the Gamecocks’ best defensive lineman, Ladi Ajijboye, comes back from a three-game suspension this week. In addition, the other starting defensive tackle, Nathan Pepper, returns from an injury sustained early in the Georgia game two weeks ago.
Couple that with the improved play of backups Travian Robertson and Melvin Ingram, and the Cocks should be fresh in the trenches all game long.
The loss of starting middle linebacker Rodney Paulk has definitely been part of the recent defensive struggles, but Eric Norwood has taken his game to a new level this year—and has a knack for big plays on televised games.
So while Paulk’s replacement, Shaq Wilson, may struggle with run support against a potent Rebel running attack, Norwood should be able to offset some of the damage.
As for Ole Miss, they are just now getting over the nearly teamwide case of the flu, and Greg Hardy, the animal on the end, still isn’t 100 percent. Reports indicate that he is moving well, but with both feet taped heavily, the chance of re-injury is there.
4.) Spurrier vs. Nix
Ole Miss got a pass for last year’s loss against Carolina, as many people chalked the game up to a letdown after the Rebels’ huge win in the Swamp. But those people forget that Ole Miss went up 14-3 on Carolina last year before Spurrier made adjustments against his former defensive coordinator, Tyrone Nix.
If the Head Ball Coach can get the inconsistent Chris Smelley, now a catcher for Alabama, to rack up the game of his life against Ole Miss last year—going 22-for-32 for 327 yards, three touchdowns (all career highs), and SEC Player of the Week honors—then you can bet Spurrier has more in store for Coach Nix this season.
Ole Miss certainly has defensive speed, but I’m not sold on the secondary. Stephen Garcia should find several different receivers, and look for Tori Gurley to haul in a long ball or two.
5.) They Are Due
This is the one that gives Gamecock fans the hardest time.
South Carolina has “been due” for years and years and years, as evidenced by the fact that the team has never beaten a top-five program.
But the time is right for South Carolina.
Spurrier has continued to notch wins over quality opponents in his time in Columbia, and Thursday’s game is one more step in the right direction for a program devoid of any winning history.
Game Prediction: Gamecocks pull off the shocker, 31-30