Tales From The Cockpit: Expectations

After finishing 2015 with an abysmal 3-9 record including a loss to The Citadel, expectations in Columbia are quite low for 2016.

I have to say that my own personal fan expectations are equally low, but I am starting to feel some optimism.  Maybe it’s just because football is almost here, maybe it’s because I personally decided to give up on the Muschamp bashing and see the sunny side of life…who knows.

One thing I do know, is that whining and crying about it isn’t going to change what our team has become.  As fans, it’s now our job to support our boys no matter what.

That being said, I have a job to do and I’m going to do it.

As all publications do before the season starts, I will now rattle off my picks in every single Gamecocks game in 2016.  I will wax poetic about why our boys will win or lose each game and just like with most pre-season picks columns…I’m probably going to be very, very wrong.

So in the interest of being wrong, I’m going to give you two sets of expectations for the 2016 South Carolina football season.

The first set is my sports journalist, radio guy opinion on each game and where our beloved Gamecocks will probably end up….the second, well that one will be just for the fans and I will allow my hardcore homer side to shine and make some completely illogical and outlandish picks without any real rhyme or reason.

So let’s get to it.

  • Week 1: @Vanderbilt
    • The Will Muschamp era will kick off with a road SEC match-up.  One that in should usually be marked as an easy win, but won’t be by any stretch of the imagination.  Vanderbilt was the Gamecocks final win in 2015, but it wasn’t an easy one and it was at Williams-Brice Stadium.  Vandy has some solid returning players and will try to run the ball a lot against the Gamecocks, a team that couldn’t stop the run in 2015.  Carolina has not lost to Vandy since 2008, but could be ripe for the picking eight years later…but they will kick off the Coach Boom era with a W.
      • Pick: South Carolina edges Vandy 24-21.
  • Week 2: (1-0) @ Mississippi State
    • Two weeks, two road conference match-ups for the new head honcho.  This time they travel to Starkville to take on a new-look Bulldogs team with a new starting QB after star QB Dak Prescott took his talents to the NFL.  In the Vandy blurb I reference rushing attacks against SC…well, the good news is, Prescott led the Bulldogs in rushing in 2015, the bad news is Mississippi State has a couple of returning, experienced running backs.  This game could be close for the majority of the game, but I just can’t bring myself to take the Gamecocks in my logical picks.
      • Pick: Mississippi State beats South Carolina 35-24
  • Week 3: (1-1) vs ECU
    • The dreaded ECU game.  Why is it dreaded?  Ask Virginia Tech who lost to the Pirates in 2015.  You could even ask Florida, who fell asleep with the lead and almost squandered it in the end last season.  It seems like a yearly trend that a Power-5 conference team will lose to the Pirates.  The good news for the Gamecocks is that this is the first home game of the season and you can bet Williams-Brice Stadium will be rocking for the debut of Will Muschamp.  Another silver lining fact is that ECU is also a team in transition.  After a rough 2015 campaign, ECU fired head coach Ruffin McNeill and has officially started over.  That being said, this one is going to be closer than any SC fan wants it to be…but in the end they’ll pull out the victory, in a very Muschamp-ian way.
      • Pick: Gamecocks win 17-9
  • Week 4: (2-1) @ Kentucky
    • Kentucky, Kentucky, Kentucky.  The Marsha to the Gamecocks Jan for the last two seasons.  A game that was never seemed like a rivalry game…but has become one as of late.  A match-up that has led many Gamecocks fans to drink excessively.  A match-up that….your Gamecocks will win in 2016.  Kentucky has no depth and has a weak defense.  They do have weapons on offense and according to everybody in Lexington, Sophomore QB Drew Baker has been quite impressive.  This game, however, is Will Muschamp’s chance to not only win over the fan base, but show that he learned his lesson since Florida and allow his offense to fly.
      • Pick: South Carolina rolls over the Wildcats 38-14.
  • Week 5: (3-1) vs Texas A&M
    • Gamecocks fans would really like to put the last time these two teams met in Columbia in the rear-view mirror, but it’s going to be difficult.  The Gamecocks did play a depleted Aggies squad very well in College Station in 2015, but this is a different A&M team with transfer QB Trevor Knight.  I’m not sure Carolina has anybody to cover Speedy Noil or stop James White.  So this will probably be a very long day for Gamecocks fans.
      • Pick: A&M demolishes the Gamecocks 42-24
  • Week 6: (3-2) vs Georgia
    • The most underrated rivalry game in all of college football is a bit more interesting in 2016 with two new head coaches, both of defensive mind.  Obviously Nick Chubb will be the primary focus of the Gamecocks defense in this football game, but the passing attack of the Bulldogs could also be a massive factor if freshman Jacob Eason is named the starter and is everything that he’s expected to be.  Last season the Bulldogs dismantled the Gamecocks in a 52-20, but with Kirby Smart at the helm, a lot has changed in Athens.  Smart reminds me of Muschamp a lot, but he hasn’t had a chance to learn to “stick to defense” like Muschamp hopefully has now in his second stint as a head coach.  The Bulldogs will surely be favored, but I expect a massive upset by the home team.
      • Pick: Carolina shocks Georgia 34-24
  • Week 7: BYE
    • Can’t win, but can’t lose.  Enjoy the early success, cause it’s going to be a long second half of the season.
  • Week 8: (4-2) vs Massachusetts
    • Not much to discuss here. Yes, the Gamecocks lost to The Citadel in 2015.  Yes Muschamp lost to Georgia Southern at Florida.  Yes, no wins are guaranteed right now for South Carolina…but I guarantee this one.
      • Pick: Gamecocks roll over the Minutemen 45-21
  • Week 9: (5-2) vs Tennessee
    • Another rivalry we would like to be a win…but it’s not going to be easy.  Sure the Gamecocks COULD pull another miracle, but I think the 3-point loss at Tennessee in 2015 was a bit of an aberration and result of a perfect storm of UT injuries and SC energy.  Not much to say here except that I don’t see a chance for a win over Rocky Top.
      • Pick: Vols beat SC 35-14
  • Week 10: (5-3) vs Missouri
    • The Battle of the Columbias has been a very dramatic series in its infancy.  A lot of Gamecocks fans claim that SC would have won in 2015 if Perry Orth had been under center.  I’m not sure that’s true, but in the spirit of optimism…why not?  In 2016 however, I’m not very confident in much.  The big plus in my book is that this game will be played in our Columbia this season.  Mizzou QB Drew Lock looked great against the lackluster Gamecock defense in 2015 and horrible against basically every other defense he faced. The Tigers return RB Ish Witter, who rushed for 98-yards and a TD against the Gamecocks in 2015, and welcome in Juco transfer Natereace Strong at that position.  Mizzou has run the ball well against Carolina in recent years and I expect the same in 2016.
      • Pick: Mizzou breaks Carolina’s hearts 21-17
  • Week 11: (5-4) @ Florida
    • The biggest storyline game on the Gamecocks’ schedule in 2016.  Coach Boom returns to the Swamp to face Jim McElwain.  He’ll also get to say “What’s up?” to his buddy Steve Spurrier.  The only think Muschamp wins this day though is whitest teeth.  McElwain continues the Gator rebuild and demolishes our boys in a fashion we haven’t seen since Timmy Tebow was running the show.
      • Pick: Gators chomp Gamecocks 48-10
  • Week 12: (5-5) vs Western Carolina
    • Finally, a gimme.  Again, I know, The Citadel…but shut up and be realistic. This one makes the Gamecocks bowl eligible!
      • Pick: Carolina rolls 45-17
  • Week 13: (6-5) @ Clemson
    • Arguably the best Clemson team in school history didn’t accomplish what the 2004 Clemson team did against the Gamecocks in 2015.  Yes, garbage time this and prevent defense that…whatever.  The truth is, I expect a massive blowout…but I also expected that in 2015 and our boys fought hard and made me proud.  I think Muschamp will get more of that out of them in a gut wrenching, hard-fought double-digit loss in Death Valley.
      • Pick: Clemson cruises into the playoffs, pummeling Carolina 45-21

Overall: 6-6  SEC: 3-5

Not great, but not 3-9.

Also, we’re going bowling!

If the Gamecocks can begin the Muschamp era 6-6 with what was left for him to start with then I have a wonderfully optimistic outlook on the future.

Remember, I said at the beginning that this is just guesswork.  Every talking head in sports media has their predictions and 99.9% of them are wrong.  Remember when Greg McElroy said our Gamecocks would go 11-1 two years ago?

He was wrong and he makes the BIG bucks.  So take this all with a grain of salt.  Take this next quick list with all the salt in the ocean.

Fanboy Picks:

  • Week 1: @ Vandy
    • SC dismantles little ol’ Vandy 35-10
  • Week 2: (1-0) @ Mississippi State
    • No Dak, No win. Gamecocks roll 24-7
  • Week 3: (2-0) vs ECU
    • Pirates can’t handle the Cockpit! SC wins 45-17
  • Week 4: (3-0) @ Kentucky
    • Revenge is sweet, Gamecocks demolish the kittens 38-3
  • Week 5: (4-0) vs Texas A&M
    • Trevor Knight can’t beat schools from SC, ask Clemson.  Gamecocks squeeze one out 28-24.
  • Week 6: (5-0) vs Georgia
  • Muschamp > Smart all day. Plus I took us in the “real” picks. Gamecocks 32- Pups 21.
  • Week 7: (6-0) BYE
    • Oh to be undefeated going into a Week 7 Bye.
  • Week 8: (6-0) vs UMass
    • Gimme game, Gamecocks roll 48-14
  • Week 9: (7-0) vs Tennessee
    • Even fanboy has his doubts going into the “Orange Crush” portion of the schedule. Vols win close one 31-28.
  • Week 10: (7-1) vs Mizzou
    • Let’s be real…you can’t name more than one player on this team. Gamecocks win 28-17.
  • Week 11: (8-1) @ Florida
    • Would love to see a triumphant return for Muschamp…but again fanboy has at least a small glimmer of reality.  Gators win 35-24.
  • Week 12: (8-2) vs WCU
    • Another Gimme win. SC cruises to 52-17 victory.
  • Week 13: (9-2) @ Clemson
    • This would be the single greatest upset in the history of the rivalry…easily.  So in hopes of a reverse-jinx…Clemson wins 45-10….please work.

Overall: 9-3 SEC: 5-2 (SEC East champs?)

Remember, Muschamp did go 7-6 his first season at Florida and then won 11 games the following season.  Of course they had FAR more talent to work with when he showed up…but a fanboy can dream.

Regardless of how things shake out, whether we go bowling or not and whether Clemson embarrasses our boys or not…man it feels good to be talking about Gamecocks football!

Just over a week to go, stay positive and stay classy.  Don’t forget that these are 18-22 year old kids working far harder to try to win for you than you work to be a fan.

Respect is always mandatory.

Forever to thee.

-Ditti

Find me on Twitter (@Ditti33), Facebook (/ditti33) or Instagram (dittius33).

 

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