Before South Carolina takes the field on Saturday night, fans may notice a continuing trend that shouldn’t be slowing down anytime soon. Whether you’re reading the morning paper or surfing the internet at night, take a minute to look up the Gamecocks' point spread.
For the third time in four weeks, the Gamecocks are underdogs against an underwhelming opponent. This time, the favorite is the Kentucky Wildcats, a familiar foe from the SEC East.
Owning a 1-2 record, the Wildcats have not impressed anyone this year. Kentucky started the year with two losses, including a blown lead against Southern Miss and a 45-7 blowout on the road against Florida. Not only that, but New Mexico State hung 42 points on a sluggish UK defense in their lone win.
As we reach the quarter mark of this 2016 season, the message is clear: neither oddsmakers nor media trust the Gamecocks. This isn’t anything new for South Carolina, as they were picked to finish last in the SEC’s Eastern Division by the media this summer.
Las Vegas labeled South Carolina a 3.5-point underdog to take down Vanderbilt in Nashville, and college football’s media "brain trust" agreed. Commodore running back Ralph Webb was confident enough to promise a victory, despite a seven-game losing streak to the Gamecocks.
After the Gamecocks won an SEC road game, you’d expect them to be at least less than a touchdown underdog to a Mississippi State team that just lost to FBS newcomer South Alabama. The oddsmakers got it right in Week 2, however, as the Bulldogs stomped South Carolina 27-14.
With a freshman-laden team and new coaching staff, it’s not like the Gamecocks will be competing for the SEC Championship or outpacing Las Vegas bettors weekly.
However, with aspirations of a winning season and a postseason bowl bid still alive, the Gamecocks can use this doubt as motivation. On Saturday, they can use this motivation against Kentucky, an opponent South Carolina has struggled with in the past.
To break this two-game losing streak, the defense will need to dial in against the Wildcats backfield. Enter mobile quarterback Stephen Johnson, who had 310 yards of passing and 51 yards of rushing against New Mexico State.
Also, both Jojo Kemp and Stanley "Boom" Williams should be seen at running back, specialists in the Wildcat formation that stunted the Gamecocks’ defense in back-to-back losses against Mark Stoops' Wildcats.
The good news? After three games, Kentucky ranks 112th nationally in passing defense, 116th in rushing defense and 122nd in scoring defense and total defense. These guys give up 528 total yards per game, and this should be music to the ears of quarterback Brandon Mcllwain and the offense.
The bottom line is this: An inexperienced South Carolina team with no preseason expectations has some momentum after a win against East Carolina, and they can improve to 2-1 in conference play if they can finally upend a Kentucky team that always seems to give the Gamecocks problems. And believe it or not, a victory would tie this team’s win total from last season.