COLUMBIA — The bright yellow Bojangles sign in the shadow of Williams-Brice Stadium — “Go Cocks, Beat Tennessee” — was out-of-date on a drizzly Tuesday afternoon.
“Your order, sir?”
“Two Cajun filet biscuits, please. And can you tell someone it’s been Vanderbilt Week since the last second ticked off the clock Saturday night in Knoxville?”
Then again, it’s easy to get confused around here.
In slightly longer than the blink of an eye, South Carolina’s Will Muschamp has gone from one of the most predictable head coaches in America to erratic in the extreme.
While going 53-43 over seven-plus seasons as a head coach at Florida and South Carolina, Muschamp built a solid low-ceiling, high-floor reputation.
His teams rarely pull upsets: 7-26 vs. ranked teams, including 2-13 at South Carolina.
Otherwise, his teams almost always play well or at least competitively.
But while Muschamp over his career has lost only four games to non-ranked teams by 20 points or more, three of those losses have come in the last nine games: 28-0 to Virginia in the Belk Bowl, 34-14 at Missouri on Sept. 21 and 41-21 at Tennessee last week.
Muschamp’s biggest win — 20-17 in double-overtime at No. 3 Georgia — is mixed into that mediocrity.
Imagine going to a Michael Bublé concert and Alice Cooper pops out.
This requires a whole new way of thinking when evaluating Muschamp’s future at South Carolina.
The Gamecocks (3-5) as presently constructed are good enough to win against almost any team, something you couldn’t say a month ago.
And weak enough to not just lose but make people throw gooey snack items at expensive TV screens while doing so.
Ultimately, extreme performances are easier to accept, as long as you can excuse the bad stuff: Proof of an upset trumps hope.
Plug the last four games on South Carolina’s schedule into the Sagarin computer and you get a 5-7 record (wins over Vandy and No. 20 Appalachian State, followed by losses to Texas A&M and No. 4 Clemson).
If that’s the case, management probably will keep Muschamp — and extend his contract another year as the price of doing recruiting business (with a few staff changes).
But the margin for error here is as thin as Paul Finebaum.
Hilinski not on the run
About those excuses …
Muschamp on Tuesday mentioned a rash of second-half turnovers (seven against Power Five conference teams), inconsistent passing, too many punts and “youth in some key areas.”
It might help if Ryan Hilinski ran a bit more. Over seven games (all starts), the freshman quarterback has registered positive rushing yardage just once: one carry for four yards against Charleston Southern in his first college appearance.
Is it because Hilinski is injured?
Are Muschamp and his assistants worried about the lack of depth at quarterback with Jake Bentley out for the season?
Or is Hilinski unable to run effectively at this level?
“No, he’s not hurt,” Muschamp said. “I think that we’re going to accentuate what each player does best and, right now, he has thrown the ball well at times and we have to continue to improve around him for him to throw the ball better. And that’s what he does best.”
I asked Muschamp if he would like to see Hilinski run more.
“I just want us to be more effective offensively and want to be more productive,” he said.
Hilinski is No. 79 in ESPN’s QBR ratings, a complex formula that includes both passing and running performance. He is not among the top 10 in the SEC in pass efficiency.
Not calling for “Crazy Legs” Hilinski here; I get the depth concerns. But defensive coordinators really enjoy a rare week of modern football strategy when they get to scheme against a quarterback that almost never takes off.
“We need to throw the football better,” Muschamp said. “That has nothing to do with running.”
‘We made some strides’
The garnet-colored glasses view of 3-5 is that the loss at Missouri included two freak touchdowns the Tigers scored on defense and the loss at Tennessee was so much about two touchdowns surrendered on special teams.
“I thought we did some good things (at Tennessee),” Muschamp said. “I thought we made some strides.”
Look out, Vandy.
Curb your enthusiasm, Appalachian State.
Out of the valley of a Missouri debacle the Gamecocks climbed to back-to-back wins over Kentucky and Georgia.
Alas, since holding Georgia to seven points in the second half and two overtimes, South Carolina has been outscored, 31-7, in the fourth quarter against Florida and Tennessee.
If that tilt in the new extreme world of Gamecock football continues, it doesn’t matter what the Bojangles sign says until August.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff