One of the most puzzling seasons in recent memory resumes Saturday at Williams-Brice Stadium, where the Gamecocks will step out of conference for a rare matchup with Sun Belt foe Appalachian State.
Only this isn’t your regular Sun Belt matchup, typically a sure win in a money-game scenario. The Mountaineers ranked in the top 25 for most of the season until a Thursday night loss to Georgia Southern. App State is very capable of defeating the Gamecocks and will likely finish the year with double-digit victories.
And would it really shock anyone if the former happened? After all, this is the same South Carolina team that won at Georgia but lost by 20 to Tennessee and Missouri.
Despite the Gamecocks’ dominant victory over Vanderbilt last week, there’s still plenty of questions as to which Carolina team will show up. Well, it simply can’t be one that loses if South Carolina is going to get to the necessary six victories to ensure bowl eligibility.
With a win over App State, the path remains unlikely but manageable. That would put South Carolina at 5-5 headed into a closing stretch against a pair of teams, Texas A&M and Clemson, that have beaten the Gamecocks in each of the last five seasons.
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Coaches don't have the luxury of looking ahead. Fortunately, columnists do.
Texas A&M mirrors the Gamecocks in a way. The Aggies have plenty of talent, but they could end up with five or six losses because of a ridiculously difficult schedule.
It would be a very winnable proposition for South Carolina, but it’s still a night game in College Station, where the Gamecocks will be a 7 to 10-point underdog.
Then, there’s Clemson, with the Gamecocks coming off a bye week. An undefeated Tigers team gunning for a second consecutive national championship will roll into Columbia. They shouldn’t be overlooking the Gamecocks either, because it’s arguable that South Carolina represents the most difficult road game of the year for Clemson.
The Tigers have struggled to hold ground in the national polls and the College Football Playoff rankings because of a down year in the rest of the ACC. They nearly lost to North Carolina on the road but haven't been tested otherwise.
Still it would take a monumental upset from a points-spread standpoint. The Gamecocks will likely be a three-touchdown underdog.
Is there a path to six wins with a loss Saturday? Mathematically speaking, yes. Realistically? No.
It’s must win (again).
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.