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Why South Carolina shouldn’t have scheduled N.C. State

An SEC schedule plus Clemson is more than enough of a challenge for this team.

NCAA Football: South Carolina at Florida
The future is bright for Carolina, so why not wait for the future to add a second Power 5 opponent to the schedule?
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

As of right now, the Gamecocks have four top 25 opponents on their 2017 schedule: three in their own division and then defending national champs Clemson at the end of the season. That is more than enough of a challenge for a second year head coach dealing with a (let’s be generous) bad offense and pinning his rebuild on the shoulders of a 19 year old quarterback that started a grand total of seven games.

So then why does starting the season against NC State make any sense?

Obviously now it is too late to change the schedule, but think about it. In his preview of the 2017 squad Bill Connelly pointed out that the 2016 squad kinda fell ass-backwards into bowl eligibility. Things will improve this year for sure, but Carolina is still a team that is looking at a 7-5 record if absolutely everything goes right.

Last year’s team benefitted from ECU, Western Carolina and UMass making up the three non-Clemson non-conference tilts. It was the padding necessary to let this team find its way as the quarterback carousel worked itself out, the offensive line struggled to create running lanes, and the defense watched in frustration when the offense couldn’t capitalize on 3-and-outs.

The 2017 campaign will start on a neutral field (which is a whole debate for another day) against one of the top 5 defensive lines in the sport. If the o-line doesn’t have its best game in two years, there’s a very real chance Wofford is a must win if we want to see the Cocks in a bowl game at year’s end.

There is nothing wrong with scheduling down, especially when you are trying to build for the future. Bowl eligibility means more practices. It means more experiences and accomplishments to sell to recruits. Will Muschamp and his staff are killing it on the recruiting trail. This team is two, at most three, seasons away from being monsters in the SEC East. Why not give yourself every advantage to make that the reality?

Let’s put the Kentucky/Louisville rivalry to the side, because only recently has it become an SEC/ACC tilt. Instead, let’s look at the three long time SEC/ACC rivalries. Carolina has played five Power Five teams outside of their end-of-year rivals in the last ten regular seasons, all of them by the way were from our neighbors to the North. Clemson has played 8. The difference? Clemson’s program is where we want Carolina’s to be.

In the last 10 years Georgia has played seven Power Five opponents in the last ten regular seasons. They played Boise State in that time frame too. Georgia Tech has played 7 as well. But Georgia’s opponents have included North Carolina coming off a division title, Clemson twice and a top 10 Oklahoma State team. Georgia Tech played Vandy, Kansas, a 4-8 Mississippi State, and a 3-9 Notre Dame.

Now, here’s the big one. Florida State has played seven Power Five opponents in the last ten regular seasons. Like Georgia, they also played a ranked Group of 5 opponent in that time frame (9th ranked BYU in 2009). Florida State has one national title, one CFP appearance three conference titles and five division titles.

Florida on the other hand has mastered not playing anyone you don’t have to. Credit where it is due, the Gators do open 2017 on a neutral field against Michigan, but let’s rewind. Since 2007 (remember that includes every season of the Tebow/Meyer union), Florida has played - want to guess?

THREE!

That’s right, a grand total of three Power Five opponents that were not members of the SEC or named Florida State. And just who were those three teams? The 2008 National Champs trounced a Miami team that would finish 7-5. In 2010 the Gators beat South Florida, who you may recall is no longer part of a Power Five conference. And finally, in 2013 Will Muschamp’s one and only Florida team to not make a bowl lost to one of the rare Al Golden Miami teams that did.

Florida takes things to the extreme. That is not what I am proposing Muschamp and Ray Tanner do for the Gamecocks. I think as a fan base, we like to see our boys challenged. We like to see them play big games outside of the state. It is good for recruiting and growing the fan base.

I just don’t see how throwing a team like 2017’s South Carolina into a game against 2017 NC State benefits the program in the long run. No one in America will be disappointed if Carolina isn’t in the College Football Playoff this season, so why pad our strength of schedule?

2018 Jake Bentley is better if he spends 2017 working out his kinks while beating up on inferior opponents. The underclassmen that will be asked to fill the shoes of Skai Moore, D.J. Smith and Bryson Allen-Williams in 2018 will be better for getting more reps in 2017.

I want Carolina to get to the point where we look at the 2019 schedule and say a game against UNC is scheduling down, And look, I believe those days are coming. I just think that there is still a mountain to climb right now and Muschamp and Tanner need to find as many flat ledges as possible to rest on before they have a team ready to head for the summit.