UPDATE (10/24): Game scores or time/television included
With one week to go before the Gamecocks open their 2011 season in Charlotte against the East Carolina Pirates, it is time for my yearly predictions for every game this season.
The Gamecocks return a veteran team, as well as a team that has the experience of playing in the SEC Championship game against Auburn last season. It is a team that has spent the offseason dealing once again with the off-the-field problems of QB Stephen Garcia.
However, Steve Spurrier hopes to ride on the shoulders of Heisman Award candidate RB Marcus Lattimore and potential first-overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft WR Alshon Jeffery.
Here is the 2011 South Carolina season in “preview:”
September 3rd, East Carolina Pirates vs. South Carolina Gamecocks (Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C.; SC 56, ECU 37)
The Gamecocks open the season with a neural site game against the East Carolina Pirates. In the past, the Pirates have been a team that is able to play great games against top-ranked opponents.
However, the Gamecocks open the season wanting to prove they are the 12th ranked team in college football, and a big win against the Pirates would go a long way in proving that the Gamecocks are ready to shine.
East Carolina might show early that they can hang with the Gamecocks, but the running attack led by Lattimore will be too much.
Gamecocks 42, Pirates 14
September 10th – South Carolina Gamecocks vs. Georgia Bulldogs (SC 45, UGA 42)
This game will be an early test again, but more to see if the Gamecocks are legitimate within the SEC.
Georgia returns star QB Aaron Murray, but the Bulldogs lost his biggest target, WR A.J. Green to the NFL.
This is a make or break season for Mark Richt, whose teams have struggles the last few seasons in the SEC, especially the Matthew Stafford days.
This will be a close game, but the Gamecocks are just a little too much for the Bulldogs. Don’t be surprised if this game is won on special teams.
Gamecocks 27, Bulldogs 24
September 17th – Navy Midshipmen vs. South Carolina Gamecocks (SC 24, Navy 21)
The Gamecocks have struggled in past years defending the option, and the biggest test will be the Midshipmen.
Gamecock fans will remember the down-to-the-wire struggles against the Wofford Terriers (a FCS school), a team that runs the offense.
The best way for the Gamecocks to win wil be to give Navy a taste of its own medicine, and counter with Lattimore, trying to control the clock to limit Navy’s opportunities on offense.
This will be a trap game for the Gamecocks, but they should earn the victory in the first home game of the season.
Gamecocks 21, Midshipmen 17
September 24th – Vanderbilt Commodores vs. South Carolina Gamecocks (SC 21, VANDY 3)
For a team (Vanderbilt) that struggles to win one game each season, it is amazing how much the Gamecocks struggle against the Commodores.
However, this is the type of game that the Gamecocks need to win in blowout fashion, to get back-up QB Connor Shaw some much needed experience.
South Carolina will be the better team in this game, but the Gamecocks’ issue of playing down to some opponents will rear its ugly head once again.
Gamecocks 17, Commodores 10
October 1st – Auburn Tigers vs. South Carolina Gamecocks (Auburn 16, SC 13)
For some reason, Gamecock fans hold a grudge against the Tigers, but the Tigers were the better team last season.
Fans also believe that Auburn is going to be a terrible team, one year after their amazing national championship run.
Make no question about it, however, Auburn is not the same team they were one season ago, but they are not terrible.
They do return RB Michael Dyer, who will be the focal point of the offense.
The home-field advantage will be the difference in this game, but it will be a hard-nosed matchup between the two teams who battled for the SEC Championship.
Gamecocks 31, Tigers 27
October 8th – Kentucky Wildcats vs. South Carolina Gamecocks (SC 54, UK 3)
Much like Vanderbilt, South Carolina has a hard time finding a way to defeat Kentucky.
This was not more evident when last year, an injury to Lattimore stalled the Gamecocks’ offense while Randall Cobb led the Wildcats on a comeback win.
This season, the battle between these two teams will not change, even though South Carolina is the significantly better team.
The difference will be a healthy Lattimore, who will help to put the game away in the fourth quarter.
Gamecocks 28, Wildcats 14
October 15th – South Carolina Gamecocks vs. Mississippi State Bulldogs (SC 14, MSST 12)
This easily could be the game of the season in the SEC. Both of these teams are equal.
Each team has is up-and-coming, with a sometimes inconsistent quarterback. For the Gamecocks, Garcia, and for the Bulldogs, Chris Relf.
Bulldogs’ head coach Dan Mullen made this team competitve last season, and could make a run like Auburn did last season.
The difference in this game will be that it is played in Starkville, Mississippi. This will be the game that ends the Gamecocks’ bid at an undefeated season.
Bulldogs 28, Gamecocks 24
October 29th – South Carolina Gamecocks vs. Tennessee Volunteers (7:15 p.m., ESPN2)
The second half of last year’s game between these two teams helped the Vols find its quarterback in Tyler Bray, replacing Matt Simms.
Bray helped to lead Tennessee to a bowl game in head coach Derek Dooley’s first season in Knoxville.
The Gamecocks will also try to get back to its winning ways, after losing its first (and likely only) game in 2011.
Tennessee will be more competitive in this year’s battle, and this has the potential to be a trap game for the Gamecocks, if the team begins to look ahead to Arkansas and Florida.
However, the Gamecocks will try to avenge the fumbling problems of the game two years ago in Knoxville. The defense will make the difference for South Carolina.
Gamecocks 23, Volunteers 16
November 5th – South Carolina Gamecocks vs. Arkansas Razorbacks (7:15 p.m., ESPN)
Last season, the Gamecocks were caught looking ahead to a game in Florida to try and win the SEC East.
A mediocre pass defense could not stop QB Ryan Mallett, as the Razorbacks throttled the Gamecocks 41-20.
Mallett does not return for the Razorbacks, and a severe injury to RB Knile Davis will end up making for a long season in Fayetteville.
The Gamecocks will get revenge on the Razorbacks, as Arkansas struggles to find an offensive identity without Davis.
Gamecocks 49, Razorbacks 17
November 12th – Florida Gators vs. South Carolina Gamecocks (12:00 p.m., CBS or 3:30 p.m., CBS or 6:00 p.m., ESPN2 or 7:45 p.m., ESPN)
Unlike last season, this game does not appear to have the postseason implications, a win meant advancing to the SEC Championship Game.
The Gators are in a rebuilding mode, as Will Muschamp takes over following Urban Meyer’s resignation/retirement/sabbatical.
Even though the Gators return key players such as RB/WR Chris Rainey, TE/WR/QB Trey Burton, and QB John Brantley, it will still struggle to adjust.
This might be a little closer than last year’s, but South Carolina is still the better team and should be able to pull away late.
Gamecocks 28, Gators 17
November 19th – The Citadel Bulldogs vs. South Carolina Gamecocks (12:00 p.m., Pay-Per-View)
Much like last year, the ‘orange crush’ schedule is broken up by a lesser opponent. This year, it is the task of The Citadel to play the role of the Troy Trojans.
This will be an opportunity for Spurrier to test out some plays that might come into play as the Gamecocks look towards the rivalry game against Clemson and the SEC Championship Game.
This should be an easy victory, but Gamecock fans know not to take these games for granted.
Gamecocks 63, Bulldogs 9
November 26th – Clemson Tigers vs. South Carolina Gamecocks (TBA)
For many Gamecock fans, this is the only game that matters on the schedule every single year.
At this point for the Tigers, they will have exceeded expectations, or there could be an interim coach for Dabo Swinney.
However, it is impossible to overlook the running ability of Andre Ellington and an always stout defense. The development of Tajh Boyd at quarterback will make the difference.
This game always seems to turn on one play. Once again, that play will go in favor of the Gamecocks.
Gamecocks 34, Tigers 21
There you have it, an 11-1 overall record in 2011, with a 7-1 record in the SEC.
The only hiccup for the Gamecocks will come against Mississippi State, as the Bulldogs have the edge as the game will be played in Starkville.
However, 11-1 will have the Gamecocks in the top 10 in the polls, and positioned back in the SEC Championship game.
It is important to caution that the key to the Gamecocks will be the first three games. If they overlook the two non-conference games against East Carolina and Navy, the Gamecocks could easily start the season 0-3.
That would leave the Gamecock faithful shaking their heads wondering how and why.
As games are added (i.e. SEC Championship Game and a bowl game), the predictions will follow.