For the first time since 2011, the South Carolina Gamecocks will open their football season against an opponent that is not an SEC or ACC foe. On Sept. 1, the Gamecocks instead play host to the in-state Coastal Carolina Chanticleers, a newly-minted Sun Belt team that has completed their two-year transition to the FBS ranks. In the first of our opponent previews, here’s an initial look at what the Chants bring to the table in 2018.
Last meeting: First, a little bit of series history. In their only prior date, the Gamecocks and Chants last squared off in 2013, when a loaded South Carolina squad annihilated then-FCS Coastal to the tune of a 70-10 beatdown. It’s one of the few times in recent memory we’ve seen the Gamecocks take a team apart in such astonishing fashion, so it’s not terribly surprising CCU stayed away from Columbia for five years.
Last season: Like most programs that make this transition, Coastal’s had an unkind introduction to life in the FBS. As a perennial contender in the Big South Conference and the owners of a four-year FCS playoff streak from 2012-15, the Chants were poised to make the leap. Following the NCAA’s transition plan, Coastal completed a 10-2 season as an FCS independent before officially joining the Sun Belt in 2017. The Chants went 3-9 (2-6 in conference), picking up victories against UMass, Idaho, and Georgia Southern. Notably, Coastal hung in there in a wild 39-38 defeat to Arkansas, and three of their losses were similarly competitive; they were really only overwhelmed against Western Illinois, Texas State, and Troy.
Most importantly, Coastal’s FBS debut was complicated by the abrupt medical leave of head coach Joe Moglia, who is largely responsible for building the Chants’ FCS success. Illness forced him to step aside before the 2017 season began, but now that he’s back, Coastal could be primed to take a step forward in 2018.
Player to watch out for: Senior wide receiver Malcom Williams was named to the preseason Biletnikoff Award watch list after an impressive 2017 campaign in which he led the Chanticleers in receptions (43), receiving yards (793), and receiving touchdowns (seven) to garner a third-team All-Sun Belt selection. He also finished with 1,093 all-purpose yards and compiled 266 receiving yards for a single-game program record against Louisiana-Monroe. He managed to accomplish all of this with a small army of quarterbacks, as the Chants played six (!) signal-callers last season.
Prognosis: Coastal seem likely to improve on its 10th-place finish in the Sun Belt, and with some better luck in close games and coach Moglia back, could challenge for its first bowl bid.