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Bye Week Check In: Where South Carolina goes from here

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Let’s take stock.

NCAA Football: South Carolina at Texas A&M Maria Lysaker-USA TODAY Sports

At long last, the idle week has finally arrived for the South Carolina Gamecocks and their fans, both groups that could really use a weekend free of football before plunging back into the final four games of the 2021 season. Now is as good a time as any to check in on the general state of the program, and assess where a 4-4 South Carolina team is likely headed from here.

First, a few superlatives:

Defensive MVP: Jaylan Foster

An absolute slam dunk for this honor, Foster has been a consistent bright spot on this defense, particularly in a unit that most observers expected to be an Achilles heel. He leads the country (and the SEC) with five interceptions, and he’s also the Gamecocks’ leading tackler with 65 stops (good for third in the SEC). He was just recently announced as one of the 12 semifinalists for the Jim Thorpe Award, which is much deserved. Foster has a magnetic nose for the football, and I’m hopeful he can continue his strong play through the rest of the season.

Offensive MVP: Juju McDowell

Look, I’m gonna be honest: I really struggled here. As we’re all painfully aware, South Carolina’s offensive output this year has been absolutely dismal: A turnstile of an offensive line, receivers dropping passes that hit them square in the chest, quarterbacks unable to stay healthy or upright behind said offensive line. The running backs haven’t been able to find much to work with either, but I wanted to give McDowell a little love for always seeming to provide a spark when he’s in the game. Kevin Harris, last season’s SEC rushing champion, and MarShawn Lloyd, a blue-chip recruit, haven’t been able to make much happen this year, likely owing at least in part to offseason surgeries. ZaQuandre White leads the Gamecocks in rushing with 299 yards while McDowell has 205, but there’s just something about the freshman that is particularly dynamic (and the Gamecocks almost certainly don’t avoid disaster at ECU without his late-game heroics). Looking forward to watching his continued growth.

Special Teams MVP: Parker White

Give it up for Parker White, who at one time was the scapegoat missing field goals all over the place and is now one of the most reliable pieces of this team. White has connected on all sixteen of his extra points and has missed just one field goal this year; he also hit a career-long 54-yarder, and provided the game-winner against ECU. Fans used to hold their breath whenever he trotted onto the field, but he’s now closing in on South Carolina’s scoring record for good reason.

Examining the rest of the schedule

So, what are the Gamecocks in for when they strap on their pads again? First is a visit from Florida, which has had an up-and-down season but remains as talented as ever. A bitterly close loss to Alabama was followed by a romp over Tennessee, but then SEC East nouveau riche Kentucky took them back down a peg. The Gators will be cocktail partying with Georgia this weekend, so we’ll see if they’re able to put on a respectable showing against the Dawgs — and whether we’ll be dealing with an energized or demoralized Gators squad the following week.

Next up is a trip to Missouri, which many have identified as South Carolina’s best remaining chance at another win. I agree with that, as the Tigers look vulnerable in multiple areas and were similarly smashed by Texas A&M and Tennessee. They’ve got a date with Vanderbilt this weekend, so we’ll see whether they’re able to dispatch the ‘Dores with more ease than the Gamecocks could muster.

Following Mizzou is likely the last ranked opponent of the year, Auburn, which currently sits at No. 18 in the polls. This will be an interesting one — USC finally got the Auburn monkey off its back last season, and this matchup is something of a revenge game between the two coaching staffs (seeing as new Auburn head man Bryan Harsin yanked two offensive staffers right from under Beamer last winter). The Gamecocks are likely to head back into familiar territory here with a loss to the Tigers, but maybe there will be a little juice to this one with all the drama on the sidelines.

Finally, of course, is the season-ender against our friends in the upstate, who will come to Columbia looking more beatable than they have in years. Unfortunately, the Clemson defense is still one of the better units in college football, so while both offenses may be flailing around ineffectually at each other, the Tigers still have a keen edge here. Sure would love a classic “Throw out the records” rivalry throwdown, though...

In any case, the Gamecocks are likely looking at a 5-7 record as their best case scenario, with 6-6 being a verrrry outside possibility that would, in my opinion, turn this season into a success. My assumption is that a bowl game remains out of the picture unless more teams with losing records are invited again this year, although that’s contingent on the Gamecocks actually choosing to accept.

How do y’all see the second half (er, sorta) of the season shaking out?