Perfect again? Fearless football forecast has the Gamecocks 10-2, Clemson 9-3
Ho-hum. Just another hot college football August in which South Carolina and Clemson are ranked in the preseason top 10 and each program has a legit Heisman Trophy candidate. Both teams are preparing for nationally televised openers after rallying for dramatic bowl victories over traditional powers to cap 11-win seasons.
True. This is unprecedented success for the Gamecocks, and respect for the Tigers extends to Las Vegas, where Clemson is a slight Aug. 31 favorite over No. 5 Georgia.
But you had to know this was coming after Jadeveon Clowney sent a Michigan helmet from Tampa into the Everglades and Tajh Boyd sent LSU sulking back to the other Death Valley.
Exactly as I said a year ago when 10-2 was the regular season forecast for both South Carolina and Clemson. I’ll soon be hosting a “Pressure to Repeat” seminar with Nick Saban and LeBron.
The 2013 version of Palmetto State predictions (records do not include postseason possibilities):
Boyd, contrary to the popular Clowney theory, didn’t seem “scared” last month. Before a few dozen reporters at the ACC Football Kickoff in Greensboro — and again in the official “ACC Digital photo booth” — the Clemson senior quarterback did his best imitation of country music star <URL destination="http://http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XT2SzWC--_c">Eric Church’s “Springsteen.”
</URL>Of course, it’s another thing to face Clowney in Columbia. If Boyd is still crooning on Nov. 30, Clemson might be zeroing in on a BCS national championship game appearance.
Sure wins: S.C. State (Sept. 7), Wake Forest (Sept. 28), Boston College (Oct. 12), The Citadel (Nov. 23).
Sure losses: None.
Probable wins: at N.C. State (Sept. 19), at Syracuse (Oct. 5), at Virginia (Nov. 2), Georgia Tech (Nov. 14).
Probable losses: None.
Trap game alert: At Maryland (Oct. 26).
Helmet scratchers: Florida State (Oct. 19), at South Carolina (Nov. 30).
Barometer game: Georgia (Aug. 31). “GameDay” and WCIV-TV are due in Death Valley for a big-boy opener.
Record: 9-3. If Florida State isn’t one of the losses, Clemson can still wind up in the Orange Bowl. But Tigers fans would rather beat South Carolina.
This isn’t your older sister’s South Carolina. Gone, at least for now, are the days when the Gamecocks fretted about a lack of depth and sustainability relative to the SEC gauntlet.
Now? A team capable of reaching the SEC championship game and giving Alabama a tussle has only four senior starters (quarterback Connor Shaw, guard Ronald Patrick, defensive end Chaz Sutton and cornerback Jimmy Legree).
Sure wins: Kentucky (Oct. 5), Vanderbilt (Sept. 14), Coastal Carolina (Nov. 23).
Sure losses: None.
Probable wins: North Carolina (Aug. 29), at Central Florida (Sept. 28), at Arkansas (Oct. 12), at Tennessee (Oct. 19), at Missouri (Oct. 26).
Probable losses: None.
Trap game alert: Mississippi State (Nov. 2).
Helmet scratchers: Florida (Nov. 16), Clemson (Nov. 30).
Barometer game: At Georgia (Sept. 7). The Gamecocks have won the last two against Georgia only to watch the Bulldogs reach the SEC championship game.
Record: 10-2, again. A bit tempered considering the unusually soft SEC schedule.
The Bulldogs overachieved their way to a nice 7-4 season in 2012 (obviously inspired by my 5-6 projection). If the Derek Douglas-led defense can make up for the loss of linebacker Carson Smith to a preseason knee injury and with enough help from running back Darien Robinson and Co. in Kevin Higgins’ triple-option offense, The Citadel can have back-to-back non-losing seasons for the first time since 1991-92.
First-year head coach Jamey Chadwell inherits senior running back Teddy Allen, good enough to carry the Buccaneers against lesser foes. He rushed for 153 yards and four touchdowns in a win over Presbyterian last year.
But CSU, picked fourth in the six-team Big South Conference preseason poll, will be hard-pressed to duplicate its 5-6 record of 2012.
S.C. State’s 5-6 record last year was its first losing season since Buddy Pough took over as head coach in 2002. So Pough was surprised last month when the Bulldogs were picked second in the official Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference preseason poll behind defending champion Bethune-Cookman.
“But I guess they still respect what we have done in the past,” Pough said.
Better luck this year with a cast that includes star wide receiver Tyler McDonald (Stratford High School).
Something has to give. The always tenacious Terriers were picked eighth nationally — tops among Southern Conference teams — in the Sports Network preseason poll, but only fifth in the SoCon in a poll of league coaches. It will be hard to replace running back Eric Breitenstein, the most valuable college football player in South Carolina last fall (2,035 rushing yards, including 125 against the Gamecocks).
Head coach Bruce Fowler has one of the SoCon’s best blockers in senior tackle (and cello player) Dakota Dozier. The Paladins might have to lean heavily on accuracy and field position from All-SoCon kicker/punter Ray Early.
Joe Moglia knows expectations. Coastal Carolina’s head coach is a father of six who once earned $21 million a year as CEO of TD Ameritrade. Now all the 2012 Big South Conference Coach of the Year has to do is win a second straight automatic FCS playoff bid.
The Chanticleers are picked to win the Big South and 10 Coastal Carolina players were named to the All-Big South preseason team.
The Blue Hose fell from 3-3 in Big South Conference play in 2011 to 0-6 last year (2-9 overall), and Presbyterian opens against Wake Forest on Aug. 29. Hopefully, returning leading tackle Donelle Williams, a junior linebacker, won’t be too busy.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff