Many believe, not just the Gamecock faithful, that the University of South Carolina football team could have a special 2011 college football season. To make this a reality, the Gamecocks must make it through a tough schedule before the taste of yet another SEC East divisional crown can be savored.
Here are five crucial games for USC this season:
at Georgia, Sept. 10
This is the early SEC statement game for both teams and for South Carolina it could be the game that determines if 2011 is going to be a really special with a BCS happy ending or just another grueling SEC season with ups-and-downs.
“Between the hedges” is never an easy venue to claim victory. The Gamecocks have won in Athens once during Steve Spurrier’s tenure in Columbia and that win propelled South Carolina to a 6-1 start in 2007. Spurrier is 2-4 against the Bulldogs as the Gamecocks head coach.
A USC win would continue the hope of a SEC East title defense in Atlanta a reality for the ‘Cocks and could spell doom for UGa and the job status of Mark Richt.
Navy, Sept. 17
This game screams revenge. If you will recall, the Gamecocks had a magical run in 1984 and seemed destined for a legitimate shot at a chance to play for the National Championship but the unranked Midshipman upset the second-ranked Gamecocks by the score of 38-21.
South Carolina will have to play disciplined defense to stop the Navy ground game. Even if the Gamecocks sink Navy, it still will not remove the bitter taste of the 1984 defeat. But it certainly helps.
at Arkansas, Nov. 5
The Razorbacks always poise a difficult challenge for the Gamecocks. The barnyard bash could be the toughest game for USC as the Gamecocks have a tendency to struggle in Fayetteville. South Carolina won in Spurrier’s first attempt on the road against the Razorbacks in 2005 (14-10), but the past two games at Razorback Stadium have not been so kind.
With Arkansas amongst the favorites to with the SEC West, this early November battle could have major implications in the race to represent the SEC in Atlanta. The Gamecocks will need their secondary as these Hogs have offensive explosion capabilities.
Florida, Nov. 12
This game will have many storylines in 2011 from Muschamp versus Spurrier to a potential decisive game for the answer as to who will be the SEC East representation in the looming Conference Championship game.
New Gator coach Will Muschamp will bring the Gators into Williams Brice Stadium and will be looking to take a chop out of the Gamecocks hopes of a SEC East repeat. This game will showcase loads of talent and surely be a SEC classic. The Gamecocks will have to have their spurs up as a lot will be riding on this game.
Clemson, Nov. 26
A rivalry like this one should not need explanation.
South Carolina will have the opportunity to win the in-state rivalry three straight years in this matchup.
Clemson needs to win this game and USC will do all it can to ensure it does not happen. Like last year, it should be a good overall game but for USC to win, the Gamecocks will need their passing attack to be sharp as Clemson will attempt to shut down the running game in this 2011 clash as they know the key to the USC offense is success on the ground.
This game will also be a good indication of where both programs are heading, not so much in regards to what bowl game but does Clemson’s Dabo Swinney have the Tigers matching the climb of the Gamecocks into yearly competition for conference crowns or will he again lead the Tigers through a painful season, only to watch the Gamecocks strut again.
Five big games and five games USC should win. A special season depends on those five games outlined. Success depends on no more than one game out of the five pointed out result in a loss. Do that and the view from atop the SEC East should have a garnet and black tint to it yet again.