Gene Sapakoff is a columnist and College Sports Editor at The Post and Courier with focus mostly on Clemson, South Carolina, SEC and ACC athletics. But also golf, the Charleston RiverDogs, Atlanta Braves, Carolina Panthers. And road food.

It’s still real college football, despite masks, careful separation of players within position-group meetings and all the coronavirus tests each week.

The SEC insists results will count in the standings when games start Sept. 26. Complete with normal statistics used to measure progress or a lack thereof.

That means job security remains relative, too.

But among so many other things, COVID-19 makes hot seat temperature checks a bit more complicated.

South Carolina’s Will Muschamp — or any SEC coach — would be on shaky ground in any year after coming off back-to-back regressive seasons, including 4-8 in 2019.

But a two-win finish in 2020 won’t mean the same as it would have in 2019.

Or will in 2021.

Muschamp, 49, will be graded on a curve, whether it’s athletic director Ray Tanner making the call or school president Bob Caslen or some garnet swell of consensus.

That curve will include three things: the Gamecocks’ gauntlet schedule, recruiting and COVID empathy.

Schedule switcheroo

Muschamp has gone 6-7, 9-4, 7-6 and 4-8 (26-25 overall going into the Sept. 26 opener against Tennessee) at South Carolina. He is 15-17 in SEC play after going 17-15 in four seasons at Florida.

On deck: 2-8 more likely than anything else. That’s because Coastal Carolina, East Carolina, Wofford and Clemson were replaced on the revised schedule with a home game against Auburn and a trip to Ole Miss.

That’s probably a 3-1 non-conference record traded for 0-2 in added SEC pressure, or how you get from 5-7 to 2-8 thanks to schedule editing at SEC headquarters.

It’s hard to build momentum without an extended soft spot.

While 5-7 upon careful analysis wouldn’t have been more impressive than 2-8, it sounds better.

The key here is how the wins are arranged.

Ideally, an upset is mixed in (as with last October’s glory Between the Hedges in Athens).

Less ideally is 2-8 and barely beating Vanderbilt and Missouri while slipping down the SEC East pecking order. 

Skill-player futures

You can make the case that South Carolina is as well-stocked with potentially good young quarterbacks — sophomore Ryan Hilinski, freshman Luke Doty and Class of 2022 commit Gunner Stockton — as at any time.

Too bad freshman MarShawn Lloyd is out for the season after suffering a knee injury last month. But there is potential for the program’s best quarterback-running back duo since Stephen Garcia/Connor Shaw and Marcus Lattimore.

Exciting stuff.

But while Muschamp steadily recruits at a top 25 level, the Gamecocks at some point must get there in the College Football Playoff rankings.

Bunker buddies

Coaches have been going on all summer about how the virus has brought teams closer. Team-building includes athletic directors and university presidents, too.

Spend enough off-season time with colleagues on Zoom and extra goodwill flows naturally. Tanner and South Carolina president Bob Caslen know the hurdles Muschamp has had to deal with because they do similar heavy lifting.

Those in charge are well aware of Muschamp’s bond with former players, including those at Florida, Auburn and elsewhere. He spent a good part of his off-season checking to see how his ex-Gamecocks and their families were coping with COVID.

Still, Caslen as the superintendent at West Point had a role in improving Army football with the hiring of Jeff Monken. Last year, Caslen apparently toyed with the idea of canning Muschamp.

Perhaps the strangest part of evaluating Muschamp’s fifth season in Columbia is the lack of fans available at Williams-Brice Stadium for a fan referendum.

Unless, of course, South Carolina has trouble getting enough people to fill the place at 25-percent capacity.

Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff