12. Western Carolina
A game at home against an FCS school is always a W (except in 2015, of course).
I once made a "Road to Glory" player on NCAA 14 back in the day and sent him to UMass. That's about all I know regarding their football program. Shouldn't have to worry too much about the Minutemen.
The Pirates were a downright scary game a couple of years ago when they were clicking on all cylinders and throwing five receivers at you on every play, but nowadays they're going through a coaching change and aren't the same caliber of competition. These aren't the Pirates of old and this should be an easy W.
Mizzou was downright awful last year, yet still beat the Gamecocks because we couldn't complete a forward pass. Luckily, the Tigers should be even worse this year and we get them at home. I would argue that this is our most winnable SEC game of 2016.
Another team South Carolina really should have beaten last year, the Wildcats lost starting quarterback Patrick Towles and will turn to Gamecock-spurner Drew Barker instead. Although the game is on the road in Lexington, historically, South Carolina has had success there. What's really in South Carolina's favor here is that they face both Vanderbilt and Mississippi State on the road before having to make their third road trip to Lexington. For a young team, that experience will make a difference.
7. Mississippi State
It's tough to have to face the Bulldogs in Starkville in game two, but having just faced Vanderbilt the week before, South Carolina should be ready to go against an MSU team that lost arguably the best player in the history of their program in Dak Prescott. A very winnable game that would be a big stride towards playing in a bowl game.
A game that seems more and more important the closer we get to it, the season opener in Nashville could very well make or break the Gamecocks' 2016 season - and don't think they don't know that. The weight of expectation, mixed with the first-game rust and jitters, mixed with a very stingy Commodore defense, makes for a very tough opening game for a young and inexperienced South Carolina team.
While some may say I have the Bulldogs too low, my argument is this: forgetting the dumpster fire outlier year of 2015, when have the Gamecocks not played it tight with Georgia? They face staff turnover much like we do, and although their overall talent level is better, they have traditionally had trouble in Williams-Brice Stadium, even when they are heavily favored. It's not that I think South Carolina should be favored, but of these last five games, this is the one that has the greatest chance of us pulling an upset.
4. Texas A&M
In the same way that the Gamecocks have typically played close games with Georgia, South Carolina, to this point, has been unable to break through the Aggie's mojo since they've joined the SEC. Maybe I still have hangover from the opening game shalacking of 2014, but we just don't seem to match up well with them. Granted, they have some turmoil within the program, so who knows what they may look like by the time we face them, but even though we play them at home, this still feels like a very tough one for South Carolina.
The game being at home certainly helps, but top to bottom, the Vols have the most talent of any team in the East in 2016. Offensively they are as set as anyone in the league and also return nine starters on the defensive side of the ball. We've seen Tennessee implode after being highly ranked in the preseason before, but there's real reasons to expect them to be very solid this year. While it isn't outside the realm of possibility that the Gamecocks could pull this one out, as of today, it looks like a tall task.
Do I see a scenario in which the Gamecocks come out and find a way to upend the Gators in the Swamp for their head coach? Sure, it could happen. But here are the facts: reigning SEC East champions, in the Swamp, which will very likely be out for blood with Muschamp back in town, a young Gamecock team, possibly starting a true freshman quarterback, etc. Would I love to see it happen? So much. (Seriously, can you imagine Muschamp post game if he beats the Gators in the Swamp on his first trip back?) But it's a lot to ask for a team with a ton of young players and a ton of questions that need answering.
The Tigers return the vast majority of their difference makers from a team that played for the national title in 2015 and have the nation's best quarterback under center (it pains me to write that, it really does, but it's true.) The Gamecocks forced 6 turnovers in last year's Palmetto bowl, at home, and still couldn't get it done. Although the Gamecocks have played well in Death Valley over the years, we simply don't know anything about this South Carolina team yet and we know exactly what to expect from the Tigers. I'm not saying it can't be done, but it would take a marvelous regular season (or a Tigers collapse) for South Carolina to avoid being enormous underdogs in the season's final game.