As the South Carolina Gamecocks prime themselves for Saturday's immense game against the No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide, many fans may be optimistic about a team that has pulled off close victories in recent weeks.
For once, I'm here to tell them to not get their hopes up.
South Carolina has been able to reel off victories early in the season against bowl-caliber teams such as N.C. State, FAU (which is awful this year) and Kentucky while picking up a defining win against then fourth-ranked Ole Miss.
The victories came in many different shades for the Gamecocks. Carolina fans have seen dominating defensive performances, 50-pass days for Garcia, the emergence of a freshman star, and a stable of talented backs that average five yards per carry.
Unfortunately, none of it has come together all at once to produce a complete game.
In order to beat Alabama on Saturday, Stephen Garcia will have to manage a perfect ball game and the rushing attack will have to be superb.
Garcia is coming off of a sloppy game (outside of three throws to one receiver) against a battered Kentucky secondary. It was a performance that leads one to wonder what kind of mistakes a fully healthy 'Bama defense ranked second in the country in points allowed will force Garcia into.
If Carolina was dominant in any of their wins, I could see the Gamecocks putting up a fight in this one. But they are an extremely young team that is still learning how to win and searching for their playmakers.
And while some moments have been encouraging for the garnet and black, others have shown glaring weaknesses. Needless to say, teams still trying to find their offensive weapons and starting front five struggle to put it all together against a dominant, fast defense like Nick Saban's.
I expect 'Bama to double up Alshon Jeffery all day long. Garcia will have to avoid forcing the ball downfield into coverage. The third-year sophomore has shown a habit of locking onto a receiver early in his progression and forcing the ball at times. If this happens, the Crimson Tide will likely end the day with at least three picks. They are tied for fifth in the NCAA with nine interceptions.
However, if Garcia is able to check down and keep a steady pace to the offense with the intermediate passing game while minimizing turnovers, the Gamecocks could have a chance.
The defense of Alabama may just be too much for the young offense of the Gamecocks to contend with in this one, though. Garcia would have to pitch a perfect game, which I don't think he is capable of doing yet, especially in an environment as hostile as Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa.
Carolina's defense, on the other hand, is many players removed from that dominating unit that debuted in the N.C. State game.
It is now a defense that can be exposed if Nos. 40 and 83 are blocked. This was evidenced well in the Kentucky game as Eric Norwood and Cliff Matthews spent most of the game fighting through double teams, leading to some big gains for the Wildcats late in the game.
Not only will the defense have to stop 'Bama, they'll have to score some big plays to give their offense a chance at some easy points. If Norwood and Co. can force turnovers, Carolina's chances drastically improve. However, Nick Saban's team has been exceptional at taking care of the football this year.
While a die-hard Carolina fan will likely take some optimism into the Oct. 17th kickoff, I think Carolina is going to be that next team that Alabama leaves in shambles.
This one could get ugly. I hate to say it.
Unless you think Carolina can finally come through with their first complete game of the season against a second-ranked opponent in one of the most hostile environments in college football.
I didn't think so either.
Alabama wins, 34-17.