For any college football team, regardless of its ultimate aims in a given season, starting a campaign 0-2 is absolutely a “worst case scenario.”
But, given the current culture of soft early-season scheduling the fact of the matter is that most teams, especially those from big BCS conferences, are more likely to kick things off at 2-0 rather than 0-2.
For 2013 South Carolina is one of the rare teams that is the exception to this rule charging out of the gates with a home opener versus North Carolina followed by a road trip to Georgia in Week 2.
Though the Gamecocks won’t be featured in one of the blockbuster “kickoff classics” which are neutrally sited and highly publicized, their first two games are against squads which both have a realistic shot at vying for league titles in their respective conferences.
To put a finer point on things, South Carolina won’t be able to use its first game against the Tar Heels to “ramp up” to the rest of the season as it would if it were facing FCS Austin Peay like Tennessee will in Week 1 of the 2013 season.
Furthermore, the Cocks won’t have much time to regroup between surviving North Carolina (a squad that went 8-4 last season and returns 13 starters) and travelling to Georgia, where the SEC East could be decided before September is even properly underway.
In comparison, division mate Tennessee will welcome Western Kentucky to Knoxville in Week 2, suddenly making the achievement of reaching a 2-0 mark seem very relative indeed.
So, what happens if the Gamecocks flounder—shockingly—against the Tar Heels and then lay an egg against Georgia, a team that ought to be included in the AP preseason Top 10?
Indeed, what will be the fallout for Steve Spurrier and Co. if South Carolina starts the 2013 season 0-2?
Well, first it’s important to put the Gamecocks' upcoming campaign into perspective in terms of expectations.
This step is crucial because if a team is expected to barely achieve bowl eligibility, then a 0-2 start isn’t near as catastrophic as it would be if predictions pointed to the squad competing for any sort of title.
In the case of South Carolina in 2013, the Gamecocks have to be considered legitimate contenders in both the SEC East race and in the overall SEC picture, regardless of the fact that their sole league title in program history was a share of the 1969 ACC crown.
Though the Cocks may not be in the preseason top 10, it’s likely they’ll be found among the top 15 teams in the country.
So, it’s pretty clear that for a program like South Carolina in 2013 a 0-2 start would be devastating.
Next, it’s important to establish what the 0-2 mark would mean relative to the 10 remaining games left on the schedule.
In other words, 0-2 looks a lot less menacing when your slate is front-loaded with easier games to follow as opposed to a schedule that just continues to deliver solid punches.
If the Gamecocks were to drop the opener to North Carolina and then the Week 2 road trip to Georgia, what comes next is actually a string of seven games that are relatively “winnable.”
Yes, after the trip to Athens, Ga., South Carolina hosts Vanderbilt in Week 3, has a bye in Week 4, travels to UCF in Week 5, hosts Kentucky in Week 6, travels to Arkansas in Week 7, heads to Tennessee in Week 8, makes tracks to Missouri in Week 9 and then celebrates homecoming versus Mississippi State in Week 10.
Though the consecutive road games from Week 7 to Week 9 won’t necessarily be easy, these are all games that the Gamecocks ought to be favored in, at least from the safe confines of looking forward from before the season has even started.
After homecoming the Cocks have a bye in Week 11 and then host Florida in Week 12, FCS Coastal Carolina in Week 13 and then finish up with the traditional closer versus Clemson, a game which is favorably placed at home in Columbia.
Absent from the schedule altogether are Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M from the SEC West and games against Florida and Clemson are both at home.
So, from this angle a 0-2 start wouldn’t be as catastrophic as it may have been if the rest of the schedule would have been a notch more difficult.
This isn’t saying that South Carolina’s schedule isn’t tough; it’s just pointing out that it could be even worse.
Since we’ve established that 0-2 start would be devastating to South Carolina in terms of expectations but not catastrophic due to the remainder of its 2013 schedule, next it’s interesting to discuss the actual impact of a winless start.
Yes, how would the media spin the story of a 0-2 opening and what would it mean for Steve Spurrier and the future of the Gamecock program?
Even if South Carolina dropped its third game to Vanderbilt (not an impossible scenario) and lurched to a 0-3 start, it’s really hard to sell the idea that Steve Spurrier’s job would actually be in jeopardy.
Not only is Spurrier wildly well thought of and colorful, he’s literally made the Gamecocks a contender, no easy task in a stacked SEC.
To illustrate, before the Cocks 11-2 run in 2011 the only time in program history (since 1892) that South Carolina had ever hit double-digit wins was in 1984 when it went 10-2 under Joe Morrison.
Furthermore, before Spurrier led the program to a 9-5 finish in 2010 the only other nine-game win season came in 2001 under Lou Holtz.
Every other South Carolina team, in 121 years, finished with eight wins or less.
The same sort of comparative stats could be applied to recruiting where Spurrier has literally transformed the Gamecock program from a middle-of-the-pack unit to a top 25-ranked recruiter.
And, as we all well know, talent influx is directly tied to winning seasons in college football.
It seems realistic to assert that Spurrier’s name would only begin to grace the “hot seat” lists if the Gamecocks went on to miss bowl eligibility in 2013 (which is only happened once, in 2007, in the Spurrier era), or if the poor results carried over into 2014.
In terms of what a 0-2 start would mean to the program from a wider perspective, you’ve got to figure that there would be some sort of discussion of pulling DE Jadeveon Clowney from active duty to preserve his NFL draft ranking in the spring.
The other component of Clowney and a potential 0-2 start is the fact that it would likely zap him out of the Heisman race and end his bid to become the first defender to take home the prize since Michigan’s Charles Woodson did so in 1997.
But, at the end of the day it’s even more important to keep the impact of a 0-2 foray into the 2013 season in perspective from a timing approach.
Yes, if South Carolina loses its first two games this season it will only be 0-2 from the evening of Saturday, Sept. 7 through the morning of Saturday, Sept. 14 which is less than seven days.
Will there be a media circus?
But, even if the whole world implodes for a full week if the Cocks beat Vandy in Week 3 then they are 1-2, and if they win at UCF in Week 4 then they are suddenly back at .500 with a 2-2 mark.
And, given who the Gamecocks return to the field in 2013 suddenly 0-2 could become 11-2, 10-3 or 9-4 in a heartbeat.
So, while 0-2 would be shocking and devastating, it certainly wouldn’t spell the end because with 10 games remaining to play, anything could happen.
To put the entire discussion into perspective its key to note that the last time South Carolina started a season 0-2 was in 1999 when the Gamecocks dropped games, ironically, to North Carolina State and Georgia to kick off the year.
But, this squad—under Lou Holtz in his first year at South Carolina—wound up going 0-11 and was outscored by a total margin of 278-87.
Even though stranger things have happened in college football, it seems pretty safe to say that the awful history of 14 years ago won’t repeat itself in Columbia, S.C. in 2013.