COLUMBIA - It could be easy for South Carolina to exhale - at least for a couple weeks - once the calendar flips to October.
After a furious start to the season, one that includes four games against SEC opponents in the first five weeks, things will slow down right before leaves begin changing colors. The Gamecocks open the second full month of their season with a road trip to Kentucky, something that doesn't scare anybody in the SEC.
South Carolina has a realistic chance to be 5-0 when it travels to Lexington. The road trip will come one week before a bye, which will come one week before a home game against Furman. Through the long grind of a football season, some Saturdays are harder to get energized for than others. The first weekend of October might be a good example of that.
But the Gamecocks know better than to take the Wildcats too lightly. The last time they visited Commonwealth Stadium, the fell behind 17-7 at halftime before rallying in the final 30 minutes. Expect Steve Spurrier to at least mention that game two years ago as a cautionary tale.
Here's what you can expect from Kentucky this fall.
Coach: Mark Stoops (2-10, 2nd season)
Returning starters: 16 (eight offense, eight defense)
2013 record: 2-10, 0-8 SEC; last place SEC East
Scoring offense: 20.5 points per game (109th in country)
Scoring defense: 31.2 points against per game (90th in country)
Series: South Carolina leads 17-7-1
Last meeting: South Carolina beat Kentucky 35-28 last season in a game that was never as close as the final score appeared. The Gamecocks opened with three straight touchdowns and led 27-7 entering the fourth quarter. The Wildcats scored 21 points in the final 15 minutes, attaching a sour taste to the victory. Of course, this game is probably best remembered as the one Jadeveon Clowney unexpectedly missed because of strained muscles near his rib cage, setting off a media firestorm the next week.
Golden Nugget line: N/A
Three things to know about Kentucky
1. Drought in the Midwest: When Kentucky lost all eight SEC games in its first year under Mark Stoops, fans barely blinked. They were used to it. The Wildcats had the same futility in 2012. Tough to believe, but Kentucky has lost 16 straight SEC games. It hasn't beaten a conference opponent since an ugly, 10-7 win against Tennessee on Nov. 26, 2011. I guess there's nowhere to go but up.
2. Reason for hope: There is one region of college football in which Kentucky has lived in the top 25. Stoops has been a major upgrade on the recruiting trail, attracting much-needed talent to a dormant program. Kentucky finished No. 23 in the 2014 recruiting rankings, according to 247 Sports. It fell to No. 32 in the 2015 rankings this past week after sitting No. 25, still better than its product on the field. Of course, seven SEC teams currently sit in the top 10, including South Carolina at No. 6.
3. Simply offensive: Kentucky is one of two SEC teams returning 16 starters, joining Mississippi State for most in the league. Among them is quarterback Maxwell Smith, running back Jojo Kemp and receiver Javess Blue. Kentucky struggled mightily to score last season, not even cracking the top 100. Or, to put it another way, the Wildcats averaged fewer than three touchdowns per game in an era where touchdowns are very, very frequent. That should improve in 2015.
Gamecocks schedule glimpse
Week before: Missouri
Next week: bye
On the horizon: Furman
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