South Carolina will start its third quarterback in as many games to start the season, but beyond that this is not a game USC can afford to lose. Central Florida is beat up, undermanned, and coming off a loss to Furman. Given the rigorous schedule ahead, any potential Gamecocks bowl trip almost certainly hinges on winning this game. Let it get away, and a first losing season since 2003 begins to loom as a very real possibility.
The Knights have lost their leading receiver to injury, kicked their leading rusher from last season off the team, and have a starting quarterback who sounds doubtful given that he’s recovering from a cut hand. Eight potential starters on offense have battled injuries. No wonder this team ranks last in FBS in total offense at 248.3 yards per game. UCF’s confidence on offense is shaky at best — and USC can’t allow them to build any Saturday.
USC hands the ball to quarterback Lorenzo Nunez, trying to become the first true freshman to win a game at that position since Steve Taneyhill in 1992. While the results from his extended stint against Georgia were mixed, and he’s gradually digesting more of the playbook, this is the right move at the right time. Let Nunez play most of a winnable game, and have a better idea of what he’s capable of heading to Missouri next week.
The Gamecocks continue to wait for players to develop at receiver, where Terry Googer and D.J. Neal will likely start Saturday. Instability at quarterback has left All-SEC candidate Pharoh Cooper well behind his 2014 receiving pace — he had one catch at Georgia — so watch for USC to use more ways to get him the ball out of the backfield. Cooper isn’t big enough to be considered a traditional H-back, but he’s being used more like one every game.
For a USC team entering the season with personnel questions on both sides of the ball, the schedule hasn’t been kind. The Gamecocks need a contest like this to work out some kinks at quarterback and on defense, where a handful of different players will start. At the same time, assuming a cakewalk over anyone would be foolish given what we’ve seen so far. Saturday provides perhaps the best measure yet of where this USC team is — or how far it has to go.
South Carolina 27, Central Florida 17