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To say the 2019 season has been interesting so far is quite an understatement. It’s as if an entire year of turmoil has been packed snugly into the first month.

CAROLINA FOOTBALL: Muschamp looks to build on second win during week off

First, South Carolina dropped its opener as a double-digit favorite, losing senior quarterback Jake Bentley in the process of a disheartening 24-20 defeat to North Carolina.

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But in Week 2 it was a true freshman that came to the rescue. Ryan Hilinksi looked like the second coming of Steve Taneyhill as he torched Charleston Southern in 72-10 victory and did a more than serviceable job in a 46-23 loss to Alabama.

Hope sprang eternal as the Gamecocks headed to the other Columbia. But then it came crashing back to earth with the 34-14 debacle at Missouri. That’s where Hilinski, banged up elbow and all, finally looked like a freshman and the offense suddenly couldn’t run on a Missouri defense front that didn’t even resemble what the Crimson Tide rolled out one week prior.

The loss put the Gamecocks at 1-3 and it seemed whatever cache Will Muschamp had built with the fan base was lost. By Kentucky week, the narrative had already shifted to coaching buyouts, and the calendar had not even turned over the October.

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So, of course, the Gamecocks beat Kentucky convincingly a Saturday ago, winning 24-7 and ending a five-year losing streak that hung like an albatross on the entire football program. It seemed to be the thing to do for this team. In 2019, South Carolina seems to be averse to certainty.

A loss may have provided clarity about the future. Instead, the Gamecocks will head to Athens on Oct. 12 with a 2-4 record and a little hope that they could pull an upset.

Make no mistake though, South Carolina will head into Athens as a three-touchdown underdog for a reason. A road victory over the No. 3 team in the country is simply too much of an ask for a team that still has its share of issues.

Salvaging this season comes down to Oct. 19 against the Florida Gators. We mentioned before that the UNC and Missouri losses put the Gamecocks behind the 8-ball for bowl eligibility, meaning they now have to find a way to get one back. Florida at home has to be that one.

The Gators seem to represent the best chance, partially because they may be a bit overrated but mostly because the game comes in a good spot. Florida hosts Auburn this weekend before traveling to LSU and finishing the three-game stretch in Columbia.

Might the Gators come in reeling off back-to-back losses?

And what if South Carolina does manage to beat Florida? It wouldn’t be outside the realm of possibility and it would set the Gamecocks up to reach a bowl game with a road win at lowly Tennessee and home victories over Vanderbilt and Appalachian State.

Then, maybe talks of buyouts can wait ... until 2020.

Then again, there’s no such thing as certainty when it comes to the 2019 Gamecocks.

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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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