You never know which Gamecock team will show up on the road, which makes 2009 a difficult season to assess. Moreover, South Carolina faces five road games this fall that may be even more challenging than the five it had to navigate last fall.
The Gamecocks open with two road tests right out of the starting blocks – at North Carolina State (Sept. 3) and at Georgia (Sept. 12). Because the opener is a Thursday night game, Carolina will have two extra days to prepare for Game 2 in Athens.
The Wolfpack lost 34-0 at Columbia in last year's opener en route to a 2-6 start, then went 4-0 before losing to Rutgers in the Papajohns.com Bowl. The Bulldogs beat Carolina 14-7 last season in Columbia en route to a 10-3 season capped by a defeat of Michigan State in the Capital One Bowl.
The Gamecocks' other road games for 2009 are at Alabama (12-2 last fall), at Tennessee (5-7 last fall) and at Arkansas (5-7 last fall). Bama should be strong again, while both the Vols and the Razorbacks project to be significantly better than last fall.
In addition to a rugged road schedule, South Carolina has the misfortune to draw a dangerous Ole Miss team as one of its two crossover foes from the SEC West this fall.
Yet another negative in the Gamecocks' slate is the fact it plays 11 consecutive weeks before finally getting an open date prior to the regular-season finale vs. Clemson.
On a positive note, South Carolina has an excellent chance to go 4-0 outside the conference. N.C. State and Clemson are coming off 7-6 seasons. Florida Atlantic was 6-6 last year and South Carolina State is a Football Championship Subdivision program that was blistered 54-0 by Clemson last fall.
Bottom line: As usual, Carolina's season will hinge on how it handles an imposing stretch run. The Gamecocks finish at Tennessee (Oct. 31), at Arkansas (Nov. 7), at home to Florida (Nov. 14) and at home to Clemson (Nov. 28). A split of those four games should put Carolina in the 7-5 range.