One bit of news that should come down the pike relatively soon is the announcement of the South Carolina Gamecocks' future non-conference football schedule. While there's still a while before we get word on what's on tap later in the decade, we'll likely get word in short order on which teams will face off against the Gamecocks in years like, say 2017 and 2018.
Below is the non-conference schedule (asterisk means it has not been confirmed by either school, but is an educated guess on my part due to previous years. EDIT: S.C. State is coming in next year, giving USC one open date. Also, Coastal's 2013 date kicked in an every-five-years rotation):
|vs. East Carolina (9/17)||Wofford?*||Coastal Carolina?*||Furman?*||The Citadel?*|
|vs. S.C. State (TBA)||open||open||open||open|
|at Clemson (11/26)||vs. Clemson (11/25)||at Clemson (11/24)||vs. Clemson (11/30)||at Clemson (11/28)|
What We Know
Clemson will be a mainstay on the schedule, as it has been since the 1909 season. That gives the Gamecocks three non-conference dates to fill each year. In recent years, one of those spots has (usually) been held by an in-state FCS opponent in a four-year rotation between The Citadel, Furman, South Carolina State and Wofford. That will then leave a total of seven open dates to fill from 2017-2010 (two in 2017, 2018 and 2020, and one in 2019).
What We Think We Know
We think (and are pretty sure) that this rotation will continue for a while. Of course, there's nothing confirmed at this point, but considering it's been the same rotation since 2007, it doesn't look like that will change. (Coastal joined in 2013, and with their next game against USC coming
next year in 2018, it appears that the new rotation will be The Citadel-S.C. State-Wofford-Coastal-Furman.)
Could Tar Heels/Gamecocks become an regular affair again?
It's very likely, but I doubt they'll play in 2016 since conference scheduling might clash between the two. The next possible year the two teams could meet, I think, could be 2017. Things right now are lining up for at-least biennial contests (though any decision would likely be made depending on the attendance of this year's game on September 3).
Sun Belt in play?
A likely source of non-conference opponents would be among the Group of Five schools (American, Conference USA, Mid-American, Mountain West and Sun Belt). It's a win-win for both programs: the visiting school gets a nice payday from an SEC school, while the Gamecocks get a team from the lower ranks to beat up on...well, at least that would be the plan. From a regional standpoint, USC could look to the Sun Belt as they have in past years (i.e. South Alabama and Troy).
One school that USC may want to be in contact with is Georgia Southern. The recent FCS-to-FBS defector has Georgia, Ole Miss and Auburn on the slate from 2015-2017, respectively, so 2018 (potentially early in the season) would be the earliest possible time. Past opponent Troy has an opening in 2017 but might not want to schedule two SEC programs in the same year; their next open dates are in 2019 and 2010. South Alabama, who will visit LSU in 2016 and Ole Miss in 2017, have one free date in 2018 that they could fill. Appalachian State, a team the Gamecocks haven't played in a while, could be a possiblity as well, likely in 2019 (since they already have a marquee Power Five opponent in Penn State in 2018).
What about the American?
UCF and USC will be playing the second of a home-and-home series (started in 2013) this season; their series with East Carolina wraps next year. If they're interested in another AAC team, a good bet would probably be Memphis. The Tigers are an up-and-comer in the ranks and are currently in the middle of a series with Missouri (2018 and 2021) and a traditional regional matchup with Ole Miss (2015, 2016 and 2019). Why not slot the Gamecocks in the year where the Tigers (Memphis, not Mizzou) don't have an SEC team on the slate (home-and-home in 2017 and 2020) if Justin Fuente's itching to play one each year?
Don't be afraid of the Power Five schools
I did a little digging through the Steve Spurrier era to see which Power Five teams (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12) have been on the regular season slate since he arrived in Columbia. Aside from Clemson every year, North Carolina (2007, 2013, 2015) and North Carolina State (2008, 2009), the Gamecocks have played not one team in the P5 during Spurrier's tenure and are not currently scheduled to do so as of now. But, as Saturday Down South discovered, they still have the 18th toughest future OOC schedule in the country and the toughest among SEC teams. However, with the trend pointing toward the SEC locking horns with some of the top teams in the country, the Gamecocks would do well to jump into the fray in that regard.
I'm interested in seeing who you'd like to see on the schedule in upcoming years. Yes, I know I haven't given you a lot to go on right now, but for now, let's all have a little fun with the speculative part of it.