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It’s been the dominant narrative of the offseason: South Carolina will struggle against a schedule that looks to be the nation’s toughest.

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The difficulty of said schedule leads to two schools of thought. First, the Gamecocks, winless against ranked opponents in their last 10 chances, will have ample opportunity to gain the signature win the program so desperately needs. The second? Well, there’s a lot less margin for error when it comes to preserving bowl eligibility.

I’m sure there are pockets of Gamecocks from Seneca to Sun City who might fanticize about the Alabama game being a repeat of 2010. In reality, it’s just that: fantasy. The 2010 Gamecocks had NFL talent all over the field. The 2010 Crimson Tide lost three games, a feat unheard of in present-day Tuscaloosa. Expect the Gamecocks to compete, but it’s still a mismatch from a pure personnel standpoint.

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It’s much the same when it comes to two other marque opponents, Clemson and Georgia.

Don’t expect South Carolina to roll into Athens and knock off the Bulldogs this fall. Sure, Steve Spurrier did it a couple times, but those Georgia teams bore no real resemblance to the powerhouse Kirby Smart has built.

And sure, South Carolina pushed Clemson a little last year. The result was still a 21-point loss. The Gamecocks are catching up, but the talent gap remains.

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A more likely scenario would be South Carolina knocking off Florida at home or getting a win in College Station against Texas A&M. Either would be a momentum-building victory for the program and huge moral boost to the segment of the fan base which has already found itself disenfranchised with head coach Will Muschamp.

A statement win is important in terms of long-term planning, but a pair of basketball schools might just be the key to bowl eligibility in 2019.

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Of course the Gamecocks need to beat North Carolina in Charlotte in the season opener. Mack Brown or no Mack Brown, the Tar Heels were one of the ACC's worst teams in 2018.

But a victory against Kentucky Sept. 28 in Williams-Brice Stadium is needed even more. The Gamecocks have to end five years of frustration against a program not thought to be the equal of South Carolina in the SEC pecking order. They need to beat the team that’s never out-recruited them, and they need to do it this year.

If they don’t, it’s s tough sell to say the program is headed in the right direction. It’s even tougher to climb into striking range of Atlanta without getting that big blue monkey off your backs.

Signature wins matter, just not as much if you can’t beat the basketball schools, and doing the latter is absolutely paramount in 2019.

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Brantley Strickland, formerly sports editor for The Times and Democrat, now works as an economic developer for Southern Carolina Regional Development Alliance. Reach him at strickland.brantley@gmail.com.

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