With the 2011 college football season having begun on Thursday, I have once again decided to record my predictions for the benefit of posterity. Long-time followers of this blog will remember that my predictions are a finely tuned amalgamation of intuition and ignorance. The latter usually takes precedence, unfortunately. For your perusal, my predictions for the season after the jump (tapering in length, which is my style, as we go).
vs. East Carolina (Charlotte)
Any time the Gamecocks play another team with "Carolina" in their name, I think it ups the ante. This is true for NCSU, UNC, and even the lowly Pirates of East Carolina University. Don't think for a second that ECU fans don't go around calling themselves "The Real Carolina," even if they have to stifle a chortling hiccup while doing so. No, Saturday's tilt is a grudge match if for no other reason than to assert that the Gamecocks have finally arrived. We have the more talented team, the more experienced team, and the deeper team, but for some reason my gut still needs some convincing where our chances against the Pirates are concerned. Thankfully, my brain is here to intervene.
It's high time the Gamecocks exorcise some demons from the 90s. On September 3, 2011 our campaign in doing so will begin in earnest. South Carolina will take the field after losing the coin toss. East Carolina will elect to receive, and the 2011 football season will be off. Expectations for the Gamecocks' defensive line this season are high, and I foresee them living up to the hype in the first series. ECU will attempt a screen on the first play of the game to calm nerves, which will be broken up by an angry Devin Taylor. The following two plays will be slants across the middle of which one will be broken up by Shaq Wilson and the other will go for a short gain. Three-and-out, Carolina takes possession at their own 30 after the ECU punt. In light of Connor Shaw starting, Spurrier opts to give the people what they want. Spurrier leans on sophomore sensation Marcus Lattimore's as the Gamecocks march down the field for an opening touchdown. Marcus nabs his first 6 points of the season, and the Heisman talk begins anew. Carolina will roll to victory, but will still give up two long touchdowns on blown coverages.
Bold Predictions: Connnor Shaw throws an intercpetion on his first pass attempt. Thankfully, that doesn't come until the second series. Garcia will throw for over 250 yards and have one interception for good measure. What, that doesn't sound bold to you? Fine. Spurrier puts in Bruce Ellington to run the "Wild Gamecock" for one series in the fourth quarter once the game has gotten out of hand. Happy?
Georgia is the game I want us to win most every year. Something about proximity breeding contempt, I guess. This year the 'Dawgs are the popular upset pick to win the SEC East. I'm not buying, though. The only thing UGA has going for them is having the best quarterback in the SEC on roster in one Aaron Murray. That's a pretty good feather in your cap, but a pocket passer like Murray still needs someone to throw to. He has Orson Charles, of course, but Gamecocks fans know from experience that a studly tight end isn't enough to make an offense click. The wild card here is freshman wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell. My sources tell me (What? I can have sources!) that Mitchell is one bad dude that Carolina would do well to cover early and often. He apparently has the hands of A.J. Greene, the athleticism of David Pollock, and the speed of an unlicensed scooter -- a comparison that is bolstered by a 6'1" frame that carries his 190 pounds. I think Carolina matches up well with UGA's pro-style offense, though, so I'm predicting a Carolina victory in a game that's not as close as the score would indicate.
Bold Predictions: I'll be honest, having something of an actual quarterback controversy makes me a good deal more nervous about this game than I previously was. Still, I have to think we pull this game out given our talent advantage at the skill positions and defensive line. South Carolina will return to the seasons of yore when the Gamecocks could be counted on to remove at least one opposing quarterback a season from the game. Aaron Murray will leave the game with a cracked rib and be out 2-3 weeks. Jadeveon Clowney will get his first sack of the season. Whatever number Uga the 'Dawgs are on will be rushed to the vet at halftime after a presumed heart attack. Later it will be acknowledged that the creature was merely suffering from excessive amount of gas.
The first rule of being a Gamecocks fan used to be "Do not talk about Navy." That might have been the way to go when we were struggling to break even on the season, but now there's a different rule: "Beat Navy." That's it. I don't want to hear about 1984 and being ranked #2 in the country, OK? You know what I want to hear about? I want to hear that Navy will be coming into Columbia, SC overconfident after feasting on a couple a cupcakes. I want to hear that the Gamecocks have had more than 25 years to think about a chance for redemption. And most of all, I want to hear that the Midshipmen are hopelessly over-matched because they'll be facing their toughest opponent of the season. Yeah, I remember how we played against Wofford a few years ago, and I don't care. This ain't that team. There are 50 plus years of documentation on how to best Navy's option style offense -- I think our coaches can find there way to the reference section of the Thomas Cooper to look it up. It's under "O." I expect us to dominate this game from whistle to whistle.
Bold Predictions: Jadeveon Clowney will have a breakout game against the Midshipmen. His speed and athleticism will be on full display as he slices up the Navy O-line. I see Carolina pulling away with a three-score victory in the fourth quarter. After Stephen Garcia gets the start based on his performance in the Georgia game, he will throw two interceptions in the first quarter and be summarily benched. We won't see him until mop-up duty for the rest of the season.
I find the Vanderbilt game somewhat scary. There exists the very real possibility that the Commodores could be 3-0 coming into this game. Their toughest test will probably be Ole Miss the week prior, but the 'Dores have shown that they're capable of beating the Rebels on the right day. For that matter, they have shown that they can beat the Gamecocks as well. Tony Franklin seems to be doing all the right things, but I'm going to go out on a limb and assume they drop a game to either Ole Miss or Connecticut prior to the match with the Gamecocks. I think the Gamecocks win in a typical Vanderbilt game -- that is to say that they lose the turnover battle but eke out the victory in the fourth quarter.
Bold Predictions: The Gamecocks will do the unthinkable and score a touchdown on special teams. No, we won't return a kickoff, but we will block a punt for six in the second quarter. Despite the win, the Gamecocks will fall in the polls the following week.
Do you remember Auburn's record in 2009? The year without Cam Newton and Nick Fairly? 8-5 with a win over Northwestern in the Outback Bowl. Yeah, I don't see this season going any better than that for them. Some people think they'll struggle to even make six wins. Still, any team that has enough talent to move Michael Dyer to second string has potential. I think the Gamecocks roll, but not until after four quarters of ugly football.
Bold Predictions: Marcus Lattimore will gain more rushing yards than Alshon does receiving yards.
Another game that scares me. However, I think the mojo from Joker Phillips' first season will have worn off considerably. Kentucky is a team that's not known for pulling off upsets away from home, and without the cheesy biscuit fueled Randall Cobb I like their chances even less.
Bold Predictions: Marcus Lattimore will fumble (GASP) but the Gamecocks will recover.
@ Mississippi State
Yet another game that scares me. Are you starting to detect a pattern here? I'll say that I'd rather face MSU than Alabama or LSU from the West. But you know what? I won't let the Gamecocks teams of years past curb my enthusiasm for the 2011 Squad. After all, we're supposed to be pretty, pretty... pretty good.
Bold Predicitons: Mississippi State could be undefeated at this point if they make it past Auburn and Georgia. I predict they will be!
He wouldn't be crazy enough to predict USC to be 8-0, would he? You bet your sweet bippy I would! Year 1 under Derek Dooley won't be much better than Year 0, the threat of playing in Knoxville doesn't have me any more worried than if we were playing at home.
Bold Predictions: The Volunteers will not receive a penalty for having to many men on the field of play. After this victory the Gamecocks will be ranked among the Top 3.
The Gamecocks' will fall to the Razorbacks by two touchdowns. The Hogs always seem to have our number, and I don't see why this year should be any different. The loss of Knile Davis won't have a noticeable impact on the outcome of the game since Arkansas has run for 100 yards against us since the beginning of time. Truth be told, I'm actually kind of jealous of Arkansas. Don't get me wrong. As a Falcons fan I have a healthy hatred for Bobby Petrino, but you can't deny the success he's had in Fayetteville. I thought we were supposed to have hired the offensive genius. Hopefully that myth comes true this season.
Bold Predictions: The Hogs will only beat us by seven points. Considering the scores of previous USC-ARK matches, this prediction is quite bold.
Alas, another loss. I have this sneaking suspicion that The Gators have set themselves up to be really good for the next few years. As dysfunctional as they were last year, Florida is still loaded with talent. I don't think anyone has questioned Will Muschamp's ability to coach a defense and Charlie Wies' ability to coach an offense. This might be the Gamecocks' toughest game of the year even though it is at home.
Bold Predictions: The Gamecocks keep it tight and even take the lead early on after Damiere Byrd returns a kickoff for a touchdown.
vs. The Citadel
Let's face it, we're at a point where we should expect to beat the Tigers year in and year out. The Gamecocks will steamroll Clemson on their way to a New Year's bowl berth and their third straight victory in the series.
Bold Predictions: This will be Dabo Swinney's last year at the helm of the Clemson Tigers.
Alright, folks. I'm spent. Sorry if it seems like I lost enthusiasm for this project as I went, but that's exactly what happened. The important thing is tomorrow we get to find out just how wrong I am.