College Sports

What to make of South Carolina’s quirky early bowl projections

Jake Bentley analyzes what went wrong in Gamecocks’ Belk Bowl blowout vs. Virginia

South Carolina football quarterback Jake Bentley discusses what happened after the Gamecocks were shut out by Virginia in the Belk Bowl on Sunday and addresses whether the result will impact his decision to leave for the NFL.
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South Carolina football quarterback Jake Bentley discusses what happened after the Gamecocks were shut out by Virginia in the Belk Bowl on Sunday and addresses whether the result will impact his decision to leave for the NFL.

South Carolina football is being given the benefit of the doubt this offseason, but only in the oddest way.

Heading into SEC Media Days, it’s clear Gamecocks coach Will Muschamp will be fielding more than a few questions about his team’s schedule, ranking in some corners as the toughest in the land.

There are three games almost no teams in the country would be expected to win. There’s a case the third and fourth easiest games are a Vanderbilt team that boasted a top-25 offense last season and an 11-win Appalachian State team with a returning conference offensive player of the year at quarterback.

Despite a slate that will get some attention in Hoover, there hasn’t been much in the way of projections of a bottoming out.

Athlon, College Football News, Sporting News and Brett McMurphy have all released bowl projections at some point this offseason. The Gamecocks appear in all of them:

Athlon — Gator Bowl vs. Wisconsin

College Football News — Independence Bowl vs. Syracuse

Sporting News — Independence Bowl vs. Wake Forest

Stadium — Gator Bowl vs. Nebraska

The Independence Bowl is, quite frankly, far from the most prestigious landing spot. The Gator Bowl has been more well-thought-of, though it remains to be seen where it will fall now that it’s scheduled for Jan. 2.

But still, that’s 4-for-4, and in a season where someone without a good bit of optimism might easily project five losses off the bat. After the preseason top three, Florida and Texas A&M, USC has to face the trio of Tennessee, Kentucky and Missouri. Mizzou won eight games last season, Kentucky 10, including a fifth win in a row vs. the Gamecocks. The Vols have been loading up on talent and upended Auburn last year with a coach in his first season.

Then comes that App State game, a secretly feisty Vandy squad and even UNC, a program that has been down but hasn’t lacked for talent.

In short, this schedule is pretty short on truly sure wins and has five games that should be pretty difficult.

Yet at the moment, the consensus seems to be the Gamecocks should win six games. That’s not the progress many want to see in Will Muschamp’s fourth season, especially in a year where the coach said he expects his best team yet in Columbia.

But it says something.

Teams with high-end schedules very often don’t win that many games, especially when the quality goes that deep. That so many think the Gamecocks will make a fourth consecutive postseason shows the program has at least a subtle benefit of the doubt.

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