6-2 (4-2). We often talk about managing expectations around here. Prior to the start of this season most people had South Carolina winning anywhere from five to eight games, with the majority of predictions coming in at 6-6 or 7-5. That seemed very reasonable considering the mess that Will Muschamp inherited, and that the majority of the talent on his team had played either one or zero seasons of college football. After Saturday’s 34-27 win over Vanderbilt, what we have experienced is probably the best-case scenario for Muschamp and the Gamecocks, having won six games before the end of October.
(Let’s not play the “could’ve been” game, because I will see your frustrating losses to Kentucky and Texas A&M and raise you a nail-biter against NC State and a semi-miracle win over Louisiana Tech.)
The downside, if you can call this a downside, is the competition has been worse than we could’ve possibly imagined. NC State is USC’s best win by far, but was proven to be no more than a “good” team after getting hammered by Notre Dame on Saturday. Louisiana Tech is a mediocre 4-4 against a mostly G-5 schedule.
When you evaluate the SEC games the Gamecocks have played, their four wins have come against four of the five worst teams in the conference. Those four teams are a combined 1-18 in their conference games. The two conference losses have come against decent teams, but teams outside of the top 25.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to bring anyone down here. I think we’re very much ahead of schedule in the Will Muschamp era with timely assists from a couple of struggling SEC programs. The Gamecocks will be favored in two games and will be heavy underdogs in two more down the stretch. Hold serve and USC will finish 8-4 (5-3) and be heading to a bowl game in a place not named Shreveport or Birmingham. That’s a major step forward in year two for Will Muschamp and Co.
What makes this coming Saturday so interesting is it will be a true measuring stick for how much further we have to go. Kirby Smart inherited a ton of talent at Georgia, and, much to my dismay, has done a great job getting that program focused and playing up to its potential. Much like South Carolina, they have had the benefit of playing in the anemic SEC East, but even with that they are currently running neck and neck with Alabama as the best team in the country.
If the Gamecocks can go into Athens and give the Bulldogs a run for their money, it will go a long way in convincing recruits this team is on the right track.
Pre-Kurt-sor. Kurt Roper was determined to get the offense going early against Vandy on Saturday, calling eight passes on the first ten offensive plays. The first drive was actually fun to watch because we got to see the team move at a pace we’ve rarely seen this season. Later in the game we mixed in a couple of run formations I hadn’t seen before. In general, the run game has been much more creative the last couple of games.
The hope is Roper is becoming more familiar with his offensive personnel and is designing the game plan around them. I don’t think we’re going to bust out and drop 40 on Georgia this weekend, but I’m happy to see our OC open up the play book a little more.
Turner the burner. AJ Turner just sits back and waits for his number to be called. For some reason as fans we seem to dismiss and push him aside in favor of the Rico Dowdles and Ty’Son Williams of the world. Then, just when we need him most, Turner gashes Vanderbilt for 121 yards and a touchdown. And he ain’t even mad at us.
Fenton PI-land. Maybe Rashad Fenton was smelling himself a little too much heading into Saturday given how well he’s played so far this year. There was a lot of talk about how teams weren’t throwing his way, but the Commodores said “screw that” and downright picked on him to the tune of two touchdowns and two pass interference calls. We’ll see if other teams follow suit in the coming weeks, and see how 16 responds.
Train Wrecks. Florida parted ways with Jim McIlwain on Sunday, and Tennessee is sure to follow suit with Butch Jones no later than November 26. Bret Bielema at Arkansas and Kevin Sumlin at Texas A&M are still considered to be on the hot seat, and we know that Matt Luke at Ole Miss is not long for his coaching job. Ed Orgeron at LSU and Gus Malzahn at Auburn seem to be safe for now, but as we know that could change over the course of three hours on a Saturday. And is Missouri really going to stick with Barry Odom for the long haul?
In other words, more than half of the coaches in the SEC have been in trouble at some point this season. We could see an unprecedented amount of turnover this winter in the conference, which at least short-term could benefit the Gamecocks.
Get Smart. So far, I have been very wrong about Kirby Smart. I didn’t think he would be an upgrade over Mark Richt, but he has Georgia rolling like a freight train so far this season. To be fair, he inherited quite a number of talented players from Richt (Michel, Chubb, Thompson, Carter, Sanders just to name a few) but he has also killed on the recruiting trail so far, landing commitments from the top dual threat quarterback in the country as well as two 5-star running backs.
As you well know, Smart was probably a few days away from becoming the Gamecocks’ head coach after the Tom Herman debacle, but Georgia decided to part ways with Richt and Smart was their only candidate. Could Smart have done at USC what he’s doing at Georgia? No, definitely not. Aside from the talent gap on the rosters, selling the Bulldog program is much easier than selling the Gamecock program, especially in the talent-rich state of Georgia.
Will Muschamp will need to ratchet up the recruiting and the coaching to keep up with old pal Kirby Smart, who is off to a red-hot start in Athens.
Go Cocks, beat Georgia.