Some are beginning to consider the South Carolina Gamecocks a legitimate contender to challenge Florida for the SEC East in 2010.
Their schedule isn't an easy one; it's an SEC schedule. While there are a few games that should be nice changes of pace, with the exception of Furman on September 18, and Vanderbilt on October 23, the Gamecocks play bowl teams from 2009.
The Gamecocks will again open up on a Thursday night, against Southern Miss, which should be a pretty good way to gauge the Gamecocks in their first, and while it isn't close to a cupcake game, they'd better use it to prepare. Following that Thursday game, rival Georgia comes calling on Saturday.
The Gamecocks should win both games. Georgia is hungry and stinging from last season's "disappointment." However the Gamecocks went into Athens last year and played with Georgia all night, losing on the final drive on an incomplete pass inside the Dawgs' 10-yard line. This year the Gamecocks should be playing better.
The Furman game comes a week after the Georgia game, and barring some type of major letdown in that game, it should be an easy win for the Gamecocks. With that being said, South Carolina's season opens with three straight home games, and three wins in those games would go a long way, though only one of them is an SEC game.
After their three-game home opener concludes, the Gamecocks hit the road—and the meat of the schedule. A game at Auburn, a team that some consider to be strong competition for Alabama in the West. Not to mention the fact that Auburn was the other team in the running for five-star running back Marcus Lattimore.
Immediately following that is an off-week. The rest of the schedule is when it gets really tough.
Alabama comes to Columbia this year, and while I can't confirm it, there have been rumblings that the Crimson Tide will face off against the Gamecocks on a Thursday night prime time game. Many have said that there is a full moon over Columbia on Thursday nights. I don't dare make those assumptions, only reiterating what has been stated.
Following Alabama, the Gamecocks play SEC East rivals Kentucky and Vanderbilt. While those two aren't known for their toughness, Vanderbilt won consecutive games against the Gamecocks in '07 and '08 and Carolina and Kentucky had a Thursday night match-up a few years ago when both were in the Top 12, so those two are almost always "trap games" for the guys in garnet.
The Gamecocks have been known for end-of-season slumps over the entire Steve Spurrier era. The "Orange Crush" (Tennessee, Florida and Clemson) has finally been thoroughly separated. Arkansas is scheduled between Tennessee and Florida, and Troy between Florida and Clemson to close the season.
The Troy game, much like the Southern Miss game, is one that the Gamecocks can ill afford to sleep on. If they walk into either one of those with their eyes closed, disaster will likely strike. Following the Troy game the Gamecocks have seven days to prepare for bitter in-state rival Clemson.
Looking at the schedule without bias is incredibly difficult. Being hopeful and loyal, I would say the Gamecocks should be 9-2 going into the Clemson game with a good shot at, or already having taken the East from Florida. Being realistic (since the "Garnet and Black Game" isn't until April 10), judging on what there is to go on film wise, the Gamecocks could be 7-4 going into the Clemson game.
If things work out like some are forecasting, or the Ole Ball Coach is hoping the Gamecocks could—with an emphasis on "could"—be going into Georgia with only one or two losses, if any. I will say in an unbiased manner that I do consider the Gamecocks a legitimate contender for the SEC East and SEC Championship in 2010.