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Brutal 2024 Slate Could Block Beamerball Bounceback

South Carolina’s new-look schedule remains among the toughest in all of college football … which could raise the temperature under Shane Beamer’s seat.

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The upcoming college football season is going to look dramatically different for fans of the University of South Carolina. As the all-powerful SEC super-conference enters its first year as a sixteen-team league – one without divisions and many of its recent regional rivalries – the stage is set for a new era.

Will that era bring improved results for long-suffering Gamecock fans?

Since joining the SEC in 1992, South Carolina has posted an atrocious 109-148-1 (.424) record in conference play. Through thirty-two (32) SEC seasons, the Gamecocks have posted a winning conference record just eight times.

This fall, the SEC welcomes Oklahoma and Texas to the fold – the conference’s first expansion since 2012. Meanwhile, in lieu of its traditional east versus west divisional format, the SEC will now pit its two best teams against each other in the title game – which would certainly appear to be the de facto national championship.

Erasing divisional play also means each team’s eight-game conference schedule has been jumbled – with the 2024 and 2025 seasons featuring home-and-home series for each program against eight opponents assigned by the conference.

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This means for the first time since the 1991 season, the Gamecocks will not play traditional eastern conference rivals No. 1 Georgia, Florida or No. 15 Tennessee this fall – although each of those programs preserved its rivalries with the other two elite eastern foes. One would think losing a pair of Top 20 opponents – including the top-ranked team in ESPN’s post-spring rankings – might make for an easier row to hoe for fourth-year Gamecock head coach Shane Beamer.

Not so …

According to Sports Illustrated, Beamer’s squad will face the fourth-toughest schedule in the country this fall. Of the twelve opponents on tap, six were ranked among the Top 20 coming out of spring practice – and another two were on the cusp of the Top 25.

Carolina’s ranked opponents are as follows: No. 6 Ole Miss (October 5 at home), No. 7 Alabama (October 12 at Tuscaloosa), No. 8 Missouri (November 16 at home), No. 14 LSU (September 14 at home), No. 16 Clemson (November 30 in Clemson) and No. 18 Oklahoma (October 19 in Norman).

Two other Gamecock opponents – Kentucky (September 7 in Lexington) and Texas A&M (November 2 at home) – narrowly missed being ranked in ESPN post-spring rankings.

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Are there any “W’s” on the horizon?

Only non-conference games against Old Dominion (August 31 at home), Akron (September 21 at home) and in-state foe Wofford (November 23 at home) – along with a tilt against perennial SEC doormat Vanderbilt (November 9 at Nashville) – project as likely victories for South Carolina this fall.

How does that brutal slate stand to impact a coach on the cusp of the hot seat?

Despite losing multiple players from last year’s 5-7 squad to the NFL, Beamer and his staff are certainly not lacking in returning talent – especially on defense and special teams. Defensive lineman Tonka Hemingway, linebacker Debo Williams and safety Nick Emmanwori have each made multiple All-SEC preseason lists – along with long snapper Hunter Rogers and punter Kai Kroeger.

Williams was a first-team all-SEC performer last season after finishing third in the conference with 113 tackles – including nine tackles for loss. Meanwhile Emmanwori was a freshman All-America two years ago.

Offensively, running back Raheim “Rocket” Sanders – a transfer from Arkansas – has drawn multiple preseason All-SEC accolades, and figures to be an important security blanket for first-year starting quarterback LaNorris Sellers. Sanders rushed for 1,443 yards and earned first-team All-SEC honors two seasons ago with the Razorbacks.

Gamecock fans are also eager to see the development of sophomore wide receiver Nyck Harbor – a blazing fast 6-foot-5, 235-pound wideout from Washington, D.C. who has the potential to become one of the nation’s elite deep threats in 2024.

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University of South Carolina head coach Shane Beamer addresses his team following a practice at Williams-Brice stadium on April 6, 2024. (Gamecock Football/ X).

So … will Beamer’s fourth team be a sleeper? Could it be the sort of squad that pulls off one or two improbable victories (like 2022’s back-to-back upsets over then-No. 5 Tennessee and No. 8 Clemson)? Or will this be a second straight “down” year? One that includes frustrating meltdowns in must-win games (like last year’s loss to Florida)?

Oh, and assuming it is the latter, what would that mean for Beamer’s future at South Carolina? The 47-year-old first-time head coach banked plenty of goodwill with the fan base during his expectations-defying 2022 campaign, but another losing season would put intense pressure on both him – and on consistently underwhelming athletics director Ray Tanner.

Perhaps an even bigger question? Even if Beamer defies the odds and manages to improve on last year’s record – or match 2022’s win total – what exactly would that mean for Gamecock fans?

Because in a sixteen-team, non-divisional conference, eight wins isn’t going to get you within a country mile of the championship game.

Remember, Kirby Smart – the coach Tanner whiffed on hiring nearly a decade ago – has won two conference crowns and two national titles in his eight seasons in Athens, Georgia. South Carolina has never won a national title – and hasn’t won a conference championship since 1969 when it played in the ACC.

Also, let’s not forget former Gamecock head coach Will Muschamp was riding high following his second season … only to see his program implode over the next two campaigns. Will the same fate befall Beamer?

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times:  “It’s one thing to quiet your critics – it’s something else entirely to prove them wrong.”

And in the SEC, proving it has never been harder than it will be for Beamer and South Carolina this fall …

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    ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

    (Travis Bell Photography)

    Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina and before that he was a bass guitarist and dive bar bouncer. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and eight children.

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    2 comments

    Sheriff Buford T. Justice Top fan July 8, 2024 at 2:16 pm

    Go Tigers!

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    Dr Roberts Top fan July 8, 2024 at 3:16 pm

    I graduated from the University of SOUTH CAROLINA, NOT the “University of Football.”

    Reply

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