COLUMBIA — Charlotte, a “neutral site” for South Carolina versus North Carolina on Saturday?
Not on the map Will Muschamp is looking at with his garnet-colored glasses.
“I don’t call it an out-of-state game,” he said Tuesday. “It’s an in-state game for us.”
If a U.S. president can suggest purchasing Greenland, why can’t a Gamecocks head coach annex an oversized suburb of the Rock Hill-Fort Mill-Tega Cay metroplex?
Of course, that didn’t work at the Belk Bowl, where South Carolina ended its 2018 season with a miserable 28-0 loss to Virginia, which followed a 56-35 loss to eventual national champion Clemson.
That makes Saturday’s season opener unusually important.
Gamecock Nation — its fans, players, mascot, tailgate food preparation people — cannot stand an 0-3 stretch against the theoretically inferior ACC. Not with two of those losses coming to underdogs on the Bank of America Stadium turf some prominent people consider a patch of backyard.
“You hear it a lot,” South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley confirmed Tuesday when asked about the SEC versus ACC thing.
Braggin’ rights stakes are just part of it.
This is a short par-4 on a layout as challenging as any college team will face this season.
It’s more of a must-not-lose situation than a must-win.
Fortunately, one of the more likely heroes for South Carolina in this latest battle for SEC-ACC supremacy in the home city of both the SEC Network and ACC Network is a former ACC player.
Tavien Feaster rides again, this time as No. 4 for South Carolina instead of No. 28 for Clemson, where he spent the last three seasons.
Muschamp wasn’t hiding expectations for his most famous graduate transfer, a late-arrival to August workouts. Feaster is listed as a starting running back along with Rico Dowdle and Mon Denson.
“He’s handled things in a first-class manner,” Muschamp said. “He comes to everything early, works his butt off, does everything that’s asked of him. I’ve been overly pleased with Tavien and his work ethic and his buy-in and everything that he’s done for our program.”
Feaster is a 6-foot, 221-pound former Spartanburg High School track star who won state titles in the 100- and 200-meter runs. He rushed for 440 yards and six touchdowns on 78 carries and caught 11 passes last season as a Tiger.
Clemson running backs coach Tony Elliott, also an offensive co-coordinator, went on this spring about Feaster’s sharpened leadership skills.
He doesn’t have to carry the load at South Carolina, but he has to help what was a poor running game in 2018 get respectable in 2019.
That’s the ideal boost for Bentley, leverage to allow for flexing a strong receiver group including Bryan Edwards, Shi Smith, Josh Vann, OrTre Smith (Wando High School), Randrecous Davis and Chavis Dawkins.
From here to 2023
A sign inside South Carolina’s sparkling new Long Family Football Operations Center gets to the point: “THE ONLY THING THAT MATTERS IS WHAT WE DO NOW”
It’s one thing to lose to ACC bully Clemson.
Virginia, OK, maybe Bronco Mendenhall has turned the corner (the Cavaliers were the ACC Kickoff media pick to win the Coastal Division).
But a loss to North Carolina in Coach Mack Brown’s first rebuilding year, that would be devastating.
It would be hard for Muschamp to explain to his large group of Charlotte-area recruiting targets.
How would all those South Carolina Business School grads get by each day at their Queen City banking jobs?
But it’s not just Feaster with the ACC mojo.
South Carolina also will introduce freshman reserve cornerback Shilo Sanders of Cedar Hill, Texas. He’s the son of one of the ACC’s greatest-ever players, Pro Football Hall of Famer Deion Sanders.
OK, true. Florida State wasn’t in the ACC yet when Sanders did it all for the Seminoles in the late 1980s. But he did wave Clemson players down The Hill at Death Valley and returned a punt for a touchdown the day Florida State won the “Puntrooski Game.”
The ACC stakes are very high here for South Carolina.
The Gamecocks, after this odd ACC stretch straddling two seasons, are not scheduled to play another ACC foe other than arch-rival Clemson until …
That’s when they will play North Carolina, again.
In Charlotte, again.
That’s a long time to suffer the brunt of ACC humor, or not.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff