5 MOST DANGEROUS GAMES ON THE CLEMSON FOOTBALL SCHEDULE: #4 South Carolina
- 2018-08-25 14:15:49
As I continue to count down the 5 most dangerous games on the 2018 Clemson Football schedule, it’s time to reveal #4 on the list, South Carolina on November 24th. In case you missed it, #5 was the NC State game, and you can read that article HERE.
Let me preface this by pointing out that South Carolina is not necessarily the fourth-toughest team on the schedule, but the game happens to be in the friendly confines of Death Valley this season, and the Tigers will always play their guts out against the Gamecocks.
However, this will be the best version of the Gamecocks since 2014 and maybe even 2013—the last time they beat the Tigers. The Gamecocks surprised most experts by winning 9 games last season in Will Muschamp’s second year. They took their lumps again from the Tigers, losing 34-10 at home, but rebounded with a 26-19 upset win over Jim Harbaugh and Michigan in the Outback Bowl. Incidentally, the Gamecocks have had a lot of success in the Outback Bowl, beating Ohio State back-to-back under Lou Holtz, and now beating Michigan twice in recent years. And they went most of the season without their lone All-America candidate, Deebo Samuel, who broke his leg in just the third week against Kentucky. He had 122 reception yards and a touchdown in that game before the injury and had 3 TD’s in their first 3 games.
Deebo Samuel is back and reportedly 100%, so it will be interesting to see how far he and third-year starting QB Jake Bentley can take them. The Gamecocks will host #3 UGA in week 2, the same day the Tigers are at Texas A&M, and that will be one of the biggest games on the SEC slate for the entire season. If the Gamecocks can pull off an early-season upset at home, it could be a springboard for the rest of their season, and the annual Palmetto Bowl in Death Valley will take on another level of national relevance. The Gamecocks’ schedule is very favorable this season, and if they are able to upset UGA, they could very well come into Death Valley as a 10-1, top-10 team. That is all conjecture at this point, though, so let’s take a look at what the Gamecocks have coming back.
I mentioned Samuel and Bentley, who will be the biggest play-makers for the Gamecocks this season, but let’s look a little closer at the quarterback. We all remember when Bentley took over as the starter midway through his true freshman season and rallied the entire team around him. Well, except for the 56-7 beat down they suffered in Death Valley on Thanksgiving weekend. They finished that season by losing their bowl game to USF, and yet there were nothing but positive things said about how good Bentley was as a freshman. After an overachieving 9-4 sophomore season, many are pointing to Bentley once again as one of the top quarterbacks in the SEC and across college football, but the numbers don’t support the hype in my opinion. Bentley was 35th in completion percentage last season (Kelly Bryant was 10th) and 46th in passing yards. He only had 18 touchdowns against 12 interceptions and rushed for a grand total of 85 yards. Kelly Bryant had more rushing yards than that in 3 different games! Bentley was also sacked 29 times; 74 quarterbacks had less. I will say that Bentley has moxie and knows how to win, but I believe he is a very mediocre quarterback from a talent standpoint. He does have experience on his side, though, and you can bet after losing to Clemson by a combined score of 90-17 that he wants a win over the Tigers as badly as anyone.
The Gamecocks have 8 returning starters on offense and 5 on defense. Their biggest loss was certainly LB Skai Moore, one of the unquestioned leaders on the team, and the biggest loss on offense was TE Hayden Hurst, who was selected in the first round of the NFL Draft with the last pick by the Ravens. Their offensive line should be a strength, but their backfield, however, was a big weakness last season and will have to improve if they will have a puncher’s chance against the Tigers. The gamecocks’ rushing offense was abysmal last season, ranked 111th out of 130 FBS teams, averaging just 122.15 rushing yards per game. A.J. Turner, who returns this season, led the team in rushing last year with just 531 yards. If the Gamecocks struggle to run the ball, it will be a long night in Death Valley against arguably the #1 defense in the land. The secondary has always been Will Muschamp’s bread and butter, but the Gamecocks return just one starter, so that could be a concern against the Tigers’ deep and talented WR corps.
Look, on paper in August, the Gamecocks don’t stand a chance. If I had to hazard a score prediction today, I would give the Tigers at least a 20-point edge. However, it’s a long season, and you never know what can happen in a rivalry game of this magnitude. And, as I noted, if the Gamecocks can knock off Georgia early and come into the game with a top-10 ranking and a ton of confidence, that could have an impact. With all those unknown variables and the rivalry factor, I rank this game the fourth-most dangerous game on the schedule. Stay tuned for the unveiling of #3!
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