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Taking stock: Looking at what’s ahead on the Gamecocks’ schedule

With the bye week upon us, let’s see what awaits in the second half of the season.

Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

The first of two much-needed bye weeks has arrived for the South Carolina Gamecocks, who have battled back after a tumultuous start to sit at 2-3 (1-2 SEC) and in sole possession of fourth place in the SEC’s Eastern Division standings. After Week 4’s loss to Missouri, South Carolina’s season and hopes of a bowl appearance looked dangerously on the brink, but a bounceback against Kentucky — which finally broke that hated five-year streak — has the Gamecocks somewhat upright again. I say “somewhat” only because the road ahead is still very difficult, and USC has been inconsistent enough to this point that it’s hard to say which version of the Gamecocks will show up any given week. With any luck, this bye will give them the chance to regroup, get healthy, and carry some confidence with them into the true grind of the schedule.

at Georgia

Currently undefeated and third in the country, the Bulldogs have a signature win over then-No. 7 Notre Dame to their credit, although the only SEC foe they’ve played thus far is Vanderbilt (which they handled about how you’d expect). Georgia continues to be the class of the SEC East and should lock up a spot in the conference championship game without much difficulty, though they could again be at risk of just missing the Playoff. Better luck next year to any aspiring dark horses in the East, though. Hopefully, the Gamecocks can translate some newfound confidence after the Kentucky win into giving the Bulldogs a scare — unlike last season’s travesty in Columbia.

vs. Florida

Ah, Florida — after all these post-Tebow years, still an enigma that manages to consistently stumble into top-10 rankings despite often playing underwhelming or downright ugly football. The No. 10 Gators will face a pair of litmus tests this week and the next, battling fellow top-10 foes Auburn and LSU, after cruising through a soft opening portion of the schedule that offered little resistance. Florida is, notably, without starting quarterback Feleipe Franks, but Kyle Trask has kept the Gators humming and Franks was never really a showstopper at the position anyway. Last season’s galling come-from-behind loss still sticks in the craw of Gamecock fans, and I imagine the players and coaching staff want this one badly, too. This feels like the most achievable upset of a ranked team left on the schedule, which South Carolina needs if it’s going to go bowling. No pressure!

at Tennessee

No matter how dark the skies might look in Columbia, Gamecock fans can at least comfort themselves with the knowledge that the weather’s even worse in Knoxville. After a somewhat encouraging 2018 campaign from new head coach Jeremy Pruitt that saw the Vols notch a huge win over a top-10 Auburn outfit, Tennessee is back to its bad habits this season, highlighted by a stunning loss to Georgia State. While the Vols are 1-3 and cruisin’ for a bruisin’ against Georgia this weekend, Neyland Stadium is an infamously difficult place for the Gamecocks to play, so some caution is merited. However, South Carolina is currently enjoying a three-game winning streak over Tennessee, and a loss here would be a bad sign indeed.

vs. Vanderbilt

With their lone victory an uninspiring 24-18 win over Northern Illinois, the 1-3 Commodores are where you’d expect after games against Georgia and LSU (though that shellacking by Purdue was a little tough to swallow). South Carolina has won 10 straight against Vandy, and while the games haven’t always been easy or fun to watch, the Gamecocks finally put together an enjoyable romp over the ‘Dores in Nashville last year. Without former quarterback Kyle Shurmur running the show for Vandy, the opportunity for another stress-free win should be ripe.

vs. Appalachian State

You know you have a tough schedule when the giant-slaying Mountaineers are your late-season “cupcake.” Since graduating to the big leagues, App has taken the Sun Belt by storm, and has already grabbed a Power 5 win this season against North Carolina. There’s no reason to think 3-0 ASU won’t run roughshod over the rest of its league schedule, and while the likes of South Alabama and Louisiana-Lafayette aren’t comparable to South Carolina, App is not intimidated. The Gamecocks should — emphasis on should — still be able to come away with a win here, but if they aren’t careful, they could find themselves pranked in much the same way the Tar Heels were.

at Texas A&M

Can South Carolina end another five-year losing skid? College Station is a hellacious place for opponents, and the Aggies have had the Gamecocks’ number more than just about any other team I can think of in recent memory (yes, I’d put them above Kentucky’s equivalent streak, given A&M’s sheer dominance in most of those games). The 3-2 Aggies are ranked 25th, with their only losses coming to top-10 Auburn and Clemson, though they also survived a scare against lowly Arkansas. Although the last two matchups against A&M were much more competitive, I frankly can’t predict South Carolina to win this game until I see it actually happen. While this is technically another achievable opportunity for the Gamecocks to beat a ranked team, I just can’t feel good about it.

vs. Clemson

South Carolina gets its second and best-timed bye week of the season before playing the Tigers. Whether it will help remains to be seen, as undefeated and currently second-ranked Clemson is primed for another perfect regular season, ACC championship, and College Football Playoff appearance. While stars Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne have looked pedestrian by their standards in the first half of the season, and the Tigers nearly lost a shocker to North Carolina last week, Clemson has established a pattern in which it saves its best football for last. This Tigers team may look “vulnerable” now, but we’ll see if that still holds true by late November. Regardless, this is unfortunately not a good candidate for a Gamecock upset, and the Palmetto Bowl’s current lopsided streak is likely to live on.