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Is South Carolina a SEC Surprise?




South Carolina suprised the college football world last season with 9 wins and are poised to exceed the posted season win total again.

South Carolina Gamecocks Offense Ready to Explode 

South Carolina exceeded expectations last season, going 9-4 in head coach Will Muschamp’s second year in Columbia. A number of SEC Network analysts forecasted 4 or 5 wins for the Gamecocks last season. This season we see the potential for 9 wins again, and with the season win total at 7.5, after opening 7 at the leading online sports books, we think the ‘Cocks will rise to the occasion with a potential upset while being favored in nine games.

The Gamecocks run game will be more diverse this season, and they have more strength and athleticism on the interior line to improve on their poor rushing game last season (122/game). The running game may be a focal point in the opening contest, but feeling is that the new full time offensive coordinator and play caller will want to strut his stuff with the talented and terrific wide receiver core and strong set of tight ends. Senior Deebo Samuel is on the SEC preseason 1st team all-conference team, yet he only played three games last year due to injury and still had 3 TD receptions. But junior Bryan Edwards is the leading returning receiver and may be the best to come out of South Carolina. Sophomore Shi Smith has great hands and speed and he played as a true freshman last year.

South  Carolina season win predictionQuarterback Jake Bentley is at his best in up-tempo, and he’s primed to produce a strong season. The country could be caught off guard on the strength and explosive potential of the Gamecocks offense.

Grade transfer JT Ibe will start at safety over Nick Harvey, who was previously a cornerback. That is perhaps the only significant surprise in South Carolina’s depth chart that was released Aug. 28. South Carolina’s defense faces a spread offense with option principles in the opener, which allows us to see how they play in space. The Gamecocks defense ranks a bit below average in the SEC to start the season, but they got a pleasant surprise when freshman defensive tackle Josh Belk withdrew from his enrollment at Clemson and joined South Carolina. The talent and speed upgrade in the secondary is significant for South Carolina, and it will be interesting to see them tested in Week 2 against a top-5 team in the country and SEC East favorite Georgia.

South Carolina’s season win total was 7 a month ago in Las Vegas. You’ll pay more juice on the over if you can still get it, but the total is more widely available at 7.5 (OVER -115) at many leading online sportsbooks.

The Gamecocks avoid Alabama, Auburn and Mississippi State from the West division; the top-3 rated teams in the West. The ‘Cocks will have to rise up in November when they travel to Florida (Muschamp’s former team and now new Gators coach Dan Mullen), and then play state rival Clemson to close the regular season. Much hype will surround the Week 2 SEC match-up against Georgia at home. South Carolina will still be favored in the nine other games. A letdown could be looming at home vs. Marshall the week following the huge SEC East game against Georgia. But the Gamecocks still look like they will win at least 8 games and have a solid shot to finish 2nd in the SEC East. An upset in Week 2 over Georgia makes 9 or 10 wins more likely as a surprise SEC challenger.

Look for South Carolina to move into the top-25 AP polls and watch their offensive production rise as well.

South Carolina OVER 7 or 7.5 season wins.

You can bet on it.

FairwayJay is a leading national sports handicapper and is recognized as one of the sports industry's most insightful analysts. Read more great insights from Jay here and follow him on Twitter: @FairwayJay