South Carolina football is just over a week away from its 2021 season opener against Eastern Illinois. That first matchup will take place under the lights of Williams-Brice Stadium before a sold out crowd that’s anxious to see how new head coach Shane Beamer will fare in Columbia.
While there are still question marks leading into game one, the Gamecocks will undoubtedly be favored when they take on EIU. The Panthers have won just five times in their last 30 tries, including going a combined 2-16 over the last two seasons.
That matchup is one of just four that the Gamecocks will likely be favored in this year, which is why Vegas has set the bar low when talking about expectations in 2021. Oddsmakers have placed the Gamecocks’ win total at just 3.5, a number that South Carolina failed to reach last season.
If the Gamecocks win the games they’re supposed to, and lose to the likes of Georgia, Clemson, Florida, and Texas A&M, which most believe will happen, swing games will be the key to seeing South Carolina reach bowl eligibility.
That leaves four toss-up games that could be the difference in seeing the Gamecocks reach the postseason for the first time since 2018, or fail to post a winning record for a third consecutive campaign.
Swing games will determine success of South Carolina football in 2021
The four toss-ups on the schedule include Auburn, Kentucky, Missouri, and Tennessee. Two of those meetings will take place at home, while the other two will be played on the road.
South Carolina may not be favored in any of these contests, but they’ll certainly have a chance to win. The Gamecocks took down Auburn at home last year, and they’ll get a chance for a repeat this November. That won’t be an easy game, but the Tigers find themselves in a situation similar to the Gamecocks, in that they’ll be finishing up year one under a brand new coaching staff.
Another team that welcomes a new head coach is Tennessee, which has beaten South Carolina each of the last two seasons. Last year’s four-point loss to the Vols is the reason for the Gamecocks finishing a spot lower in the SEC East standings. This matchup takes place in Neyland Stadium, a place where the Gamecocks have won just three times since joining the SEC. While Knoxville presents a tough environment, the Vols are among teams with the most NCAA transfers and they’ve yet to decide on a starting quarterback.
Kentucky has had the Gamecocks’ number over the last few years, but they, too, are dealing with some team issues prior to the season’s start. The Wildcats have lost a quarterback to transfer, while also seeing six players recently charged with burglary. While that’s certainly unwanted attention just a week away from the opener, there’s still talent on the roster. The Wildcats boast one of the league’s best running back rooms, and Mark Stoops is sure to have the defense ready.
Finally, the Gamecocks get Missouri on the road in the midst of a very tough November. The Tigers have won each of the last two meetings, though freshman Luke Doty nearly led the Gamecocks to a come-from-behind win last year. South Carolina outscored the Tigers 10-0 with Doty in the lineup but it wasn’t enough to overcome a 17-point halftime deficit.
Each of these games could go either way. If South Carolina can at least get to 2-2 to split the contests, bowl eligibility will be in reach.