COLUMBIA - Stuck in June, it's impossible to know what South Carolina's football season could behold. But here's one possibility.
The Gamecocks play five of their first seven games at Williams-Brice Stadium, where they have the nation's longest home winning streak at 18 straight victories. They have only two road games: at Vanderbilt, and at Kentucky. Neither should break much of a sweat. In fact, USC will likely be a favorite in each of its first seven games.
Meanwhile, Auburn awaits at the end of October. The Tigers, easily the biggest surprise in college football last season, have forgotten all about 2012. (To remind you, Auburn went 3-9 that season, winless in the SEC, and replaced Gene Chizik with former offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn.) They played four of their first six games at home. Other than the possible challenge from LSU, none of Auburn's opponents should be slowing down the Gus Bus.
What we have here, folks, is the potential for one of the biggest games of the college football season. We're talking about two powerhouses who could meet again at the SEC Championship Game in December. In the best-case scenario, South Carolina could carry a 7-0 record into Jordan-Hare Stadium against an Auburn team that sits 6-0.
Excited yet? I say we just fast forward to Oct. 25, and a potentially huge Saturday on the Plains. Here's what to expect from Auburn.
Coach: Gus Malzahn (12-2, second season)
Returning starters: 14 (eight offense, six defense)
2013 record: 12-2, 7-1 SEC; first place SEC West
Scoring offense: 39.5 points per game (13th in country)
Scoring defense: 24.7 points against per game (48th in country)
Series: South Carolina trails 9-1
Last meeting: Last meeting: South Carolina to Auburn 16-13 in 2011. The Tigers scored their winning touchdown on a pass from Barrett Trotter to tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen with 1:38 left in the game. The loss very well could have kept USC out of the BCS picture that season.
Golden Nugget line: South Carolina 7-point underdog
Three things to know about Auburn
1. Believe in miracles: Auburn generated two of the most memorable plays in college football history last season. The Prayer at Jordan-Hare against Georgia and Kick Six against Alabama were considered miracles, propelling the Tigers to a national championship game appearance. Want to know the real miracle that season? It was the fact Auburn was even able to compete with Georgia and Alabama. I covered Auburn in 2012, so I witnessed the train wreck up close. The Tigers were best described as a catastrophe. They didn't just lose games that season, finishing winless in the SEC. They looked like an FCS program. If you're looking for someone to turn water into wine, Gus Malzahn may be your guy.
2. 2.6 miles: Auburn rushed for 4,596 yards in 2013, approximately 2.6 miles. The Tigers' rushing offense was easily the most proficient in college football, even finishing with more yards than Navy and Army. You know, the service academies that run the triple-option. Auburn will be without Heisman Trophy finalist Tre Mason, but it is still deep at running back. Then, there's the key to their entire offense. Quarterback Nick Marshall's ability to run the zone-read may be the most dangerous weapon in all the country.
3. Weak link: Auburn's defense was much better last season than it was in 2012 - mostly thanks to new defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson - but it was still near the bottom of the league. Mostly, the Tigers beat teams by outscoring them. Nobody could stop their running game, so nobody could stop them. That leaves the potential for a powerful offense - say, South Carolina and Steve Spurrier - to put up a lot of points. If the Gamecocks want to beat Auburn this fall, they better expect a shootout.
Gamecocks schedule glimpse
Week before: Furman
Next week: Tennessee
On the horizon: bye
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