Week three of our Opponent Previews takes us to the first non-conference matchup of the season. The Gamecocks face an East Carolina University team that is in the midst of its own coaching change. The Pirates are perennially one of the most prolific party schools in the country, but things have been anything but fun and games in Greenville, North Carolina since Ruffin McNeil was unexpectedly shown the door at the end of last season.
Normally, the outcome of this game, against a team that has struggled more than just a teeny bit since joining the AAC two seasons ago, would be a non sequitur, but something in the matchup this year smacks of, "oh boy we're gonna be down at halftime and pull out a weird four-point game, aren't we."
Why? For one, this East Carolina team has played foil to the Gamecocks in seasons past. Most notably, a win in a rain-drenched Williams-Brice stadium in 1999 (granted, that team also beat Miami that year). Also, they're playing a South Carolina Gamecocks team with little offensive confidence. By contrast, the Pirates have seemingly always played with a constantly evolving, always interesting offensive setup. However, this year, they'll have to do so with massive question marks at quarterback. Both Blake Kemp and Kurt Benkert have transferred, and Jamie Summers has moved to the backfield. The returning playmakers include wideouts Quay Johnson and Davon Grayson as well as gritty tailback Anthony Scott. Overhauls to coaching staffs on both sides of the football could make for a much improved squad this year. Fate could make for another frustratingly productive afternoon for Gamecock fans.
Last Year: 5-7
Last season, the Pirates finished fifth in the AAC, but their season included hard-fought losses to Florida and BYU alongside convincing victories against Virginia Tech and SMU. This year's team looks poised to vastly improve on that mark behind the leadership of a promising new head coach with proven record of developing wide receiver talent: Scottie Montgomery. While this might be his first head-coaching gig, there's definitely plenty of room for Montgomery to capitalize on this opportunity, and a win against the Gamecocks could be a one-way ticket to a contract extension.
Prognosis: Honestly, you want to write a preview like this one without making the assertion that 'anything is possible', but, when you compile the numbers, it seems increasingly possible that this game will indeed be a toss-up. It will feature a team that's either riding the momentum of solid showings against solid conference competition, or licking its wounds at the hands of defeat and travel.
Cocks win 38-24, but it ain't pretty.