South Carolina quarterback Ryan Hilinski (3) is forced to scramble after not finding an open receiver against Appalachian State in Columbia on Saturday, Nov. 9, 2019. Travis Bell/Sideline Carolina

COLUMBIA — The South Carolina Gamecocks got left out in the cold by a Sun Belt Conference team Saturday night.

When a 20-15 home loss to Appalachian State is not an upset, not really surprising — not even on Senior Night — that’s an indictment.

When Williams-Brice Stadium is less than half full as the home team is closing in for a possible winning touchdown in the final minute, that’s a sobering snapshot of a sorry season.

7 takeaways from the Gamecocks' latest question-raising loss

The full body of 2019 work proves the only SEC team in the Carolinas is no better than No. 6 among the 10 major college teams in the two states.

Even in a year in which Clemson is a defending national champion and Wake Forest and Appalachian State have recently been ranked in national top 25 polls, that is a call for change in Columbia.

On the coaching staff.

Or program management style.

Or both.

“Extremely disappointed for our football team and for our fan base,” head coach Will Muschamp said after watching his team rush for a total of 21 yards. “When we don’t have the ability right now where we are offensively to run the ball, we’re going to struggle.”

The pecking order of Carolinas teams is more connected than you think, particularly on the recruiting trail where programs are either moving ahead or behind.

The Gamecocks (4-6) had numerous problems on offense back in their 24-20 loss to North Carolina in Charlotte. But they wouldn’t have dreamed of having to go with a receiver group of freshman walk-on Trey Adkins, Xavier Legette and sophomore Chad Terrell.

Such was necessary Saturday night with Shi Smith still out with a sore hamstring and Bryan Edwards missing much of the first half after an early leg injury.

But please excuse the “no excuses” cliché: It’s not like South Carolina was sizzling when all of its skill-position talent was healthy.

The Carolinas rankings tell the tale:

1. Clemson

Record: 10-0. Sagarin ranking: 3

Saturday result: 55-10 win at N.C. State

The Gamecocks have to be thrilled to get another shot at such a highly ranked team. It’s a chance to change the narrative.

But with as many missed tackles, dropped passes, missed blocks and misfired passes on display Saturday night, Clemson will win by several touchdowns. 

2. Wake Forest

Record: 7-2. Sagarin ranking: 40.

Saturday result: 36-17 loss at Virginia Tech

A solid No. 2 despite the setback in Blacksburg. Which sets up an epic 1 vs. 2 clash next week at Death Valley. 

3. Appalachian State

Record: 8-1. Sagarin ranking: 41

Saturday result: 20-15 win at South Carolina

The Mountaineers had Cotton Bowl hopes before a Halloween Night home loss to Georgia Southern. Still, in Eliah Drinkwitz’ first season as head coach and with the ample talent Scott Satterfield left before taking the Louisville job, Appalachian State is one of the nation’s best non-Power Five conference teams.

Appalachian State fans got a lot to cheer about in Columbia.

The team got a precious win.

The school got $900,000 for the game.

4. North Carolina

Record: 4-5. Sagarin ranking: 53

Saturday result: bye

The Tar Heels have been busy in Carolinas play with this list: Lost to Appalachian State and Wake Forest but get a rankings boost for wins over South Carolina and Duke.

5. Duke

Record: 4-5. Sagarin ranking: 51

Saturday result: 38-7 loss to Notre Dame

Lost four of the last five games, including at North Carolina.

6. South Carolina

Record: 4-5. Sagarin ranking: 44

Saturday result: 20-15 loss to Appalachian State

It’s hard to lose three games to Carolinas teams in one season, but the Gamecocks will pull it off in 2019 (North Carolina, Appalachian State, Clemson).

It gets easier in 2020: Coastal Carolina, East Carolina, at Clemson.

7. Charlotte

Record: 5-5. Sagarin ranking: 132

Saturday result: 28-21 win at Texas-El Paso

Three straight wins. A program clearly on the upswing.

8. Coastal Carolina

Record: 4-5. Sagarin ranking: 120

Thursday night result: 48-7 loss to Louisiana

Former Charleston Southern head coach Jamey Chadwell led the Chanticleers to a road victory over a Power Five team.

Well, technically. It was Kansas.

But could N.C. State beat Kansas?

9. N.C. State

Record: 4-5. Sagarin ranking: 78

Saturday result: Home loss to Clemson

Really missing Ryan Finley at quarterback and Drinkwitz, the N.C. State offensive coordinator from 2016-18.

Those Carolina connections again …

On Saturday night, as N.C. State was stumbling around on offense against mighty Clemson, Drinkwitz was presiding over Appalachian State’s wacky formations and creative play-calling.

At least the Wolfpack owns a 34-6 victory over East Carolina.

10. East Carolina

Record: 3-7. Sagarin ranking: 128

Saturday result: 59-51 loss at SMU

Things are sure to improve under first-year head coach Mike Houston, who did so well at Lenoir-Rhyne, The Citadel and James Madison.


Houston led The Citadel to an upset win over the Gamecocks in 2015.

That makes him one of the many coaches South Carolina might consider if the football program stays at No. 6, or doesn’t move up real soon, in the Carolinas rankings.

Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff