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ESPN Upstate Blog

Join us here everyday for thoughts, predictions, scores, and more with some of the best sports authorities in the Upstate.  We have blogs from Greg McKinney of "The Huddle," Mark Sturgis and Price Atkinson from "Straight Up With Sturg" and more!


Tales From The Cockpit: Delusions of Grandeur


Saturday night in Lexington didn't go as planned for the Gamecocks.

Carolina's offense was only able to score 10 points against a defense that was averaging over 40-points against a game. Just 10 points against one of the worst defenses in all of college football. A defense that yielded 42 points to New Mexico State just one week before.

This part is what is most frustrating for Gamecocks fans.

The defense cannot take the blame for this loss. They held the Kentucky offense, led by a mobile QB in Stephen Johnson, to just 17 points. The two-headed running back for the Wildcats, Stanley Williams and Benjamin Snell Jr, did combine for 196 yards and 2 touchdowns on the ground...but when you give up just 17 points, you should win the football game.

Therefore the frustrations have to lie with the offense. So cue the Gator fan chorus of "I told you so" about the Muschamp/Roper offense, but I for one don't agree with that being the issue.

The issue for me still stems from reality.

The reality that Steve Spurrier and company didn't really do much recruiting the last couple of years. The reality that this team is devoid of developed talent. The reality that Brandon McIlwain has just 2-games of experience as a starting quarterback after last night's loss to Kentucky.

Reality is why I can take a loss like the one we saw in Lexington and still have a positive outlook for the future. Sure my 6-6 prediction is now in jeopardy as a win against Kentucky was part of that puzzle...but the future doesn't only include 2016.

Some of our fan base has been a little spoiled over the last handful of years and now they have delusions of grandeur. The delusions including, but are not limited to, thinking there is a quick fix to the mess that befell our team last season.

You may not have wanted Muschamp for this job, but let me tell you right now that not Tom Herman, Justin Fuente or even Mark Richt would be able to make this team a legitimate contender over night. So hate on Muschamp or Roper all you want, but nothing was going to happen overnight.

Patience is needed from the fan for this chapter of Gamecocks football.

I know this is a tough task right now with Clemson having so much success, but the Tigers rise to being a national contender didn't just happen overnight either. Tommy Bowden was fired after a 3-3 start in 2007, Dabo Swinney then went 4-3 to bring the Tigers to 7-6.

Between 2010 and now the Tigers have won 10 or more games every season, that's two and a half seasons with Swinney before national relevance and still at that time Clemson wasn't considered a legitimate title contender yet.

In 2015 Clemson rose to the level of legitimate contender. That's eight and a half seasons under Dabo Swinney before their playoff berth. Yes, multiple BCS berths and multiple ACC titles were a part of the path to the top, but again, none of it happened overnight.

Now I'm not sharing in the delusions of grandeur here and saying that the Gamecocks under Muschamp will be a national contender anytime soon, or maybe even at all.

I live in the world of reality and know that's expecting far too much. The reason I'm pointing all of this out is because I'm seeing far too many Gamecocks fans bailing on this coaching staff and these players after just four football games.

We need to be patient. Rebuilding this program will take time. I still believe Muschamp and the coaching staff he put together will turn this thing around and I firmly believe we've already seen the beginnings of a bright future.

So take a deep breath Gamecock fans. It will all be okay.

Forever to thee.

-Ditti

Find me on Twitter (@Ditti33), Facebook (/ditti33) and Instagram (dittius33).

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ESPN Upstate's Week 4 college football staff picks


How many shades of blue can Sturg turn?

It's the question of the hour and this weekend as we're going on a road trip to the Bluegrass. Doing the Clemson postgame show, the weekends are typically filled except this Saturday thanks to tonight's game at Georgia Tech.

We're heading up I-75 tomorrow morning with destination Lexington, Ky. to cover South Carolina's game Saturday night at Kentucky (7:30 pm, SEC Network). Whether it was Columbia or somewhere halfway driveable from the Upstate, we planned to sail to wherever the Gamecocks were playing.

Turns out a pair of aces popped up for me in getting the chance to return to my alma mater this weekend. Will I be decked out in UK blue? No. Why? Because we're there to cover USC. Do I want them to win? Yes, but they have zero shot in winning tomorrow or another game all season.

Sturg has been dropping hints for two weeks about the amount of blue he's packing or plans to come home with. Maybe after all these years I've rubbed off on him a touch.

If you're a Carolina fan and making the trip to Lexington, come by and see us tomorrow/Friday afternoon as we'll be broadcasting "Straight Up With Sturg" live from 4:00-7:00 pm at Street Craves (395 South Limestone) on the edge of the UK campus. Located on the corner of Limestone and the Avenue of Champions, we'll be setup on the patio, so stop in, have a cold one and get your weekend started with us.

Hopefully, Sturg will be hopping with excitement that he'll take us all for a night out on the town in Lexington right after the show and start by paying a visit to the world famous Two Keys Tavern. If he's not excited then, he will be by the time we're done at the Keys.

No matter what the night and weekends holds in store, we're prime to see some bad football Saturday evening at Commonwealth Stadium. USC is experiencing the typical growing pains of a young team but fended off a pesky East Carolina team last weekend. The Gamecocks should have no trouble with UK to improve to 3-1 overall.

The Wildcats have lost starting quarterback Drew Barker for the foreseeable future, have given up the most touchdowns of any Power 5 school in the country and can't stop a nosebleed on third down.

I expect Brandon Mcilwain to have a big night running the ball and making plays in his second-career start for Will Muschamp's team en route to a 43-13 win. It's gonna be ugly.

One that won't be ugly is No. 19 Florida at No. 14 Tennessee. Sure the Gators have won 11 straight thanks to the Vols' blowing last year's game in the final seconds. However, the strength of Florida's defense against the "octane" of the Tennessee offense should be fun. UT head coach Butch Jones desperately needs this game for a multitude of reasons with the inside track to the SEC title game at the very top of his list.

There's a lot of other sneaky good games Saturday like No. 13 Florida State at South Florida, No. 7 Stanford at UCLA, Penn State at No. 4 Michigan and Pittsburgh at UNC.

The SEC has a bevy of enticing games including No. 12 Georgia at No. 23 Ole Miss, No. 18 LSU at Auburn and No. 17 Arkansas versus No. 10 Texas A&M at "Jerry's World."

I can't wait to take it all in starting tonight with No. 5 Clemson at Georgia Tech followed by the usual shenanigans of Sturg letting loose away from home. Stay tuned for posts from the road!

Week 4 KB Greg Lonzo Mark H. Sturg Price Diesel Josh
Clemson at Ga Tech
Clemson

Clemson

Clemson

Clemson

Clemson

Clemson

Clemson

Clemson
S. Carolina at UK
Kentucky

USC

USC

Kentucky

USC

USC

USC

USC
Georgia at Ole Miss
Ole Miss

Ole Miss

Ole Miss

Ole Miss

Ole Miss

Ole Miss

Georgia

Ole Miss
Wisky at Mich St.
Mich St.

Mich St.

Mich St.

Mich St.

Mich St.

Mich St.

Mich St.

Mich St.
Florida at Tenn
Tenn

Tenn

Florida

Tenn

Florida

Tenn

Florida

Tenn
Pittsburgh at UNC
Pitt

UNC

UNC

Pitt

UNC

Pitt

Pitt

Pitt
LSU at Auburn
LSU

LSU

LSU

LSU

LSU

LSU

LSU

LSU
Stanford at UCLA
Stanford

Stanford

Stanford

Stanford

UCLA

Stanford

Stanford

UCLA
Arkansas vs A&M
A&M

A&M

A&M

A&M

Arkansas

A&M

A&M

Arkansas
Cal at Arizona St
Cal

ASU

ASU

ASU

ASU

ASU

Cal

ASU

Last Week

6-4

7-3

7-3

8-2

7-3

7-3

4-6

5-5
Total Record
19-11

23-7

20-10

21-9

20-10

19-11

16-14

17-13


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Tales From The Cockpit: Bend But Don't Break



It started with a bang.

The Gamecocks set the tone early in their home opener with an 80-yard A.J. Turner kickoff return and a horse collar tackle penalty to boot. The 80,000+ in Williams-Brice were already at full volume when Freshman Brandon McIlwain took it in for the touchdown on the very first offensive play of the game.

The Gamecocks finally came to play in the first quarter...and boy did they. McIlwain and company scored 17 unanswered in the first quarter and Willy B was swaying.

Then it seemed like the Gamecocks employed a bit of a soccer tactic. They "parked the bus" on the Pirates. I guess in football terms we'll go with "bend but don't break."

Coach Will Muschamp even alluded to this tactic in the post game press conference when he pointed out that the Gamecock defense only surrendered 3 explosive plays and ECU was only able to average 5.7 yards per down. Explaining that the plan from the start was to keep everything in front of them.

For an offense like the one the Pirates trotted onto the field, that's actually saying a lot.

Sure the Gamecocks gave up 500+ yards to ECU and yes, they allowed Pirates' wide-out Zay Jones 22 receptions (nearly a record). Muschamp actually laughed that statistic off in the post game press conference. When asked about the 22 reception performance, Coach Boom simply responded, "he had a bunch, huh?"

To me, Muschamp seemed much more relaxed than I ever remember him looking in any post-game press conference after a win or a loss with Florida. He credited the Carolina fans for motivating his team, he credited his offensive line for protecting McIlwain and he even credited McIlwain for his clean sheet (more soccer references) in his first start.

Above all else, Muschamp seemed very pleased with his defense. He even said their performance was "outstanding."

Again, ECU's 500+ yards aside, this defense held a very explosive offense to just 15 points and forced 3 very timely turnovers in the red zone. If you don't find that impressive then you probably didn't watch much South Carolina football one season ago.

What makes me laugh is how, yet again, I was told all week about how great ECU was and how Carolina didn't have a chance just to be told after the win that they were garbage and that it means nothing. Here's the thing though...it doesn't matter what it means to you or me. It matters what it means to this team and how it impacts them moving forward.

With another SEC road game in Lexington this weekend, the Gamecocks have an opportunity to match their 2015 win total and make a statement against a thinned out Kentucky football team. This game is extremely important to the season, as not only does it continue to work towards my prediction of 6-6, but it can help to bolster the teams confidence as it comes home for a tough couple of weeks.

After Kentucky the Aggies and Bulldogs roll into Williams-Brice and a 3-1 football team with two conference wins on the road under its belt will play much differently than a .500 team that just lost to a depleted Wildcats team.

This Saturday's game may be the biggest of the young season for Carolina and I am sticking with my original predictions (which have all been right) and giving the Gamecocks the win. I'm even going to stick with my original score prediction of 38-14.

Kentucky's defense is not very good (surrendered 40+ points in each game this year) and they will probably be without starting QB Drew Barker. Yes, backup Stephen Johnson is a mobile quarterback (USC's kryptonite) and yes he had a heck of a performance against New Mexico State last week in relief of Barker...but I'm not scared. Muschamp is getting through to these defensive players and I fully expect that to continue in Lexington.

One last thing.

My Gator-fan friends mocked me when Kurt Roper signed on to be Muschamp's offensive coordinator again. I believe in Roper. I like his passion (heard some of it from through the glass separating the press box from the coaches box on Saturday) and I think he and McIlwain are growing more and more comfortable with each other each week. I really do believe that great things are on the horizon.

So get ready to party Gamecock Nation, our boys will be coming home 3-1.

Forever to thee.

-Ditti

Find me on Twitter (@Ditti33), Facebook (/ditti33) and Instagram (dittius33).

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ESPN Upstate's Week 3 College Football Staff Picks


Separation Saturday? No, it's too early to anoint week 3 anything of the kind but "Shakedown Saturday" might be more accurate.

This weekend we're gonna see what ingredients everybody is made of. Everybody as in the Associated Press's top-three teams that all hit the road for Norman, Louisville and Oxford.

The big dog eventually has to eat and No. 1 Alabama, Florida State and Ohio State's weekend menus offer a delicious main course with conference play revving up around the country. A trio of wins will help solidify college football's top contenders after two weeks of different teams entering and exiting the revolving door in every talk show host and TV analysts' mythical CFB Playoff top four.

My apologies Hokie fans but I've been waiting for Ohio State to step up and play a big time, non-conference regular season opponent for years. So will the No. 3 Buckeyes pass the test at No. 14 Oklahoma?

JT Barrett has been outstanding in the first-two games, while tOSU has given up just 432 yards of offense and 13 total points in bludgeoning blowouts of Bowling Green and Tulsa. Saturday most definitely will challenge Urban Meyer's team in ways only Michigan State, Michigan and Notre Dame did in the three-straight games to close the 2015 campaign.

OU fans are pining for a big win. Just one. By a single point will do. "Big Game" Bob Stoops' Sooners have been AWOL without a signature win the last few seasons. Unless there's a big-game breakthrough, Stoops needs to look for new real estate next season because OU fans will have hit their limit without any road available for turning back.

I've heard the stat all week…and I'm flat tired of it. Ole Miss has the chance to beat the chosen one Nick Saban for the third-straight time, something no team has ever done before.

Keep dreaming. On the road or not, the top-ranked Tide look more than ready to deliver a first-class, butt whipping and that's exactly what I expect Saturday afternoon at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. I'm sure it's a bucket list call the retiring Verne Lundquist is looking forward to.

Which brings us to what I think is the biggest and best matchup of the weekend: No. 2 Florida State at No. 10 Louisville. Funny how three weeks ago this 12 noon tilt in the 'Ville wasn't even on the national radar. Now ESPN's "College Gameday" is in town for the first time in school history.

Lamar Jackson versus Deondre Francois? Yes please!

I couldn't be more excited for this one. So excited that I'll be glued and watching on my laptop in the press box at Clemson during the Tigers' noon kickoff against S.C. State. Unless the Tigers decide to keep this one close…again (which of course is highly doubtful).

Will Jackson's hype match the history? The Lamar Jackson show has been electrifying out of the gate and that's putting mildly. The UofL quarterback has amassed 1,015 yards of total offense in two games, including seven touchdown passes while running for another six. He's also the Cards' leading rusher with 318 yards on the ground and is averaging an astonishing 9.9 yards per carry. Are you kidding me?!?

I scoffed at WDRB Eric Crawford columnist after their season-opening win against UNC Charlotte when wrote a column stating: "Jackson might be the Greatest Show on Turf."

Hey Eric, I very well could have been wrong when I laughed at you buddy. Jackson's offensive fireworks have overshadowed a Louisville defense littered with NFL talent led by preseason first-team, All-ACC linebackers Keith Kelsey and Devonte Fields. My point? The Cards are far from a one-trick pony.

With my Kentucky blue blood, it's painful to pick UofL to win…in anything. This just smells like a Cards upset with the stars aligning for Bobby Petrino's squad with Francois making his first start on the road for FSU. All reasons and more why I pulled the trigger in picking the hometown team.

As expected, G-Mack has taken full command below and is poised to run away with it early. Here's how we see the weekend shaking out...


Week 3 KB Greg Lonzo Mark H. Sturg Price Diesel Josh
ECU at S. Carolina
ECU

USC

USC

USC

USC

USC

ECU

ECU
Miami at App State
Miami

App St

Miami

Miami

Miami

App St

App St

Miami
Florida St at UofL
UofL

UofL

UofL

UofL

UofL

UofL

UofL

FSU
BC at Va Tech
Va Tech

Va Tech

BC

Va Tech

Va Tech

Va Tech

Va Tech

Va Tech
Oregon at Nebraska
Nebraska

Nebraska

Oregon

Oregon

Nebraska

Nebraska

Oregon

Oregon
Pitt at Okla State
Okla St

Okla St

Pitt

Okla St

Pitt

Pitt

Pitt

Pitt
Texas A&M at Auburn
A&M

A&M

A&M

A&M

Auburn

A&M

A&M

A&M
Mich St at N. Dame
N. Dame

N. Dame

MSU

N. Dame

N. Dame

N. Dame

N. Dame

N. Dame
Ohio St at Okla
Okla

Ohio St

Ohio St

Ohio St

Ohio St

Ohio St

Ohio St

Ohio St
UCLA at BYU
BYU

BYU

UCLA

UCLA

UCLA

UCLA

BYU

UCLA

Last Week

7-3

8-2

5-5

5-5

8-2

6-4

5-5

6-4
Total Record
13-7

16-4

13-7

13-7

13-7

12-8

12-8

12-8



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Tags :  
Topics : Sports




 

Tales From The Cockpit: A Tale of Two Halves



It wasn't pretty on Saturday night in Starkville...not pretty at all.

The Gamecocks came out flat again and unlike in week one, Mississippi State made them pay. Bulldogs quarterback Nick Fitzgerald set a school record for rushing yards by a quarterback and the Gamecocks fell 27-14.

Carolina now comes home to host ECU next Saturday in what is really a must-win game if we want my prediction of 6-6 to come true.

So far, I'm right on. I may have gotten the scores wrong, but I knew that the Gamecocks would come home 1-1. Mississippi State might have lost to South Alabama in Week 1, but as I said on the Inside the Mind of Ditti podcast on ESPNUpstate.com, snapshot reactions are usually wrong.

In all honesty, I kind of thought South Carolina's chances of upsetting Mississippi State lessened after their embarrassing opening week loss. The Bulldogs aren't a bad football team, they just fell asleep against a team that they should have pummeled. That in turn can inspire a good (not great) team to turn around a take care of business in front of their home fans the following week.

That is what we saw on Saturday night. When you combine the extra motivation for Mississippi State with the abysmal start to the game for Carolina, you get a 24-0 halftime score.

Then a bit of a change came. Mississippi State may very well have put it in cruise control in the second half, but how often have we seen a 24-0 halftime lead end up a 30 or 40-point blowout in college football?

That didn't happen.

After gaining 324 total yards in the first half, the Bulldogs only added 163 in the second, and only managed a field goal. I guess you can say that Dan Mullen took pity on the lowly Gamecocks...but when has that ever been the case in the SEC?

Especially for a team that had just lost at home to a Sun Belt Conference team. That's the kind of team that wants to bounce back and make a statement with a blowout win in conference.

Yes, I'm looking for silver linings, I'm captaining the good ship lollipop as my former radio co-host used to say...but why not?

In the second half we saw Brandon McIlwain play much better than he did against Vanderbilt, the offense moved the ball and scored two touchdowns and the defense started tackling a little bit more. In the end, the Gamecocks lost a game they were expected to lose. I predicted a 35-24 Mississippi State win, I had too much confidence in both offenses apparently.

Now it's on to ECU and it's time for some home cookin' and hopefully a team ready for the first quarter instead of waiting on halftime adjustments.

A win this week and the Gamecocks are still on track for my 6-6 prediction and a bowl game. That's literally the best we can hope for. If you had delusions of grandeur and expected anything more, then I'm sorry to burst your bubble.

The future is bright, but we don't live in the future...we live in the now. Now, this team needs a lot of work, a lot of support and some positive thinking. So show our boys your love and support like you always do next Saturday. 2-1 is on the horizon.

Forever to thee.

-Ditti

Find me on Twitter (@Ditti33), Facebook (/ditti33) and Instagram (dittius33).

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ESPN Upstate's Week 2 college football staff picks


Sir Isaac Newton's third law of motion states that for every action there's an equal and opposite reaction.

Who knew it applied to college football?

After the best opening slate of games in the sport's history, we're about to slingshot back to the far other end of the spectrum. This Saturday is a distant cry from the five-day window we just experienced, where an outstanding or close game was seemingly being played on every station across the dial.

Nostradamus could easily pen a new chapter in his famous Les Propheties titled "The First Saturday That Sucked" without even picking up an astrological compass or ever seeing a down of pigskin. That's exactly what we're in store for college football fans.

I'm no prophet but much like the Saturday before rivalry and Thanksgiving weekend in November, you have to look high and low to find good, attractive matchups. The closest thing to a prophet this Saturday is named Jerry Caldwell and he can be found in Bristol, Tenn.

Long ago the Bristol Motor Speedy General Manager foresaw Saturday night's first-ever, one-of-a-kind "Battle At Bristol" on the second Saturday of the season and it couldn't have been a more brilliant or smarter move.

Why get lost in the shuffle of the neutral-site-showdowns and kickoff classics from week 1 and instead place the game on week 2?

Without a single game on the docket pitting top-25 teams against each other and the majority of Power 5 teams playing 1-AA (sorry Diesel) or directional schools, Tennessee-Virginia Tech will be the lone spectacle fans dial up on the tube Saturday night. Every time a gimmick game is setup, we're all somewhat curious as to the setup and what it'll look like actually unfolding. I'm the furthest thing from a NASCAR fan as you'll find walking the planet. But I too want to see the opening kickoff in the middle of a speedway, the scoreboard suspended directly above the field, how awful the sight lines are for fans in attendance and how beautiful they look watching at home from my living room.

Talking with Caldwell at ACC Football Kickoff in July, you could see the excitement in eyes and hear the anticipation in his voice. He knows he's got something special after waiting years to pull it off. How special remains to be seen because I have my doubts despite hearing other race tracks have inquired about trying to execute the same "novel" concept at oval near you.

But enough racing talk and back to football…South Carolina heads to Starkvegas looking to pull off an improbable 2-0 start to the Will Muschamp era. I flipped a coin and turned up the Bulldogs but unlike Vegas sports books that have MSU as a head-scratching, seven-point favorite, this is more like a pick 'em due to the unknowns of both USC and MSU.

Arkansas traveling to No. 15 TCU gets my jollies going. However, it's a rivalry renewed that'll be must-see football Saturday at 12 noon. For the first time since September 16, 2000, Penn State and Pitt meet on the gridiron for what's expected to be a good 'ol fashioned street fight.

One side (Pitt) is seething to renew this rivalry at Heinz Field, while the other side (Penn State) refuses to even call or use the term "rival" in describing the Panthers (story here). Call it a hunch but tempers will flare, teams will brawl, ejections will take place and Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi will deliver a postgame presser filled with backhanded shots at the Nittany Lions that'll leave both sides talking about for years.

Now, onto our slate of games as picked by the ESPN Upstate team...

Week 2 KB Greg Lonzo Mark H. Sturg Price Diesel Josh
NC State at ECU
ECU

ECU

NC State

NC State

ECU

ECU

NC State

NC State
Penn State at Pitt
Pitt

Pitt

Penn St.

Penn St

Pitt

Pitt

Penn St

Pitt
Cincy at Purdue
Cincy

Cincy

Cincy

Purdue

Cincy

Purdue

Purdue

Purdue
UConn at Navy
UConn

Navy

Navy

Navy

Navy

Navy

Navy

Navy
MTSU at Vandy
Vandy

Vandy

Vandy

Vandy

MTSU

MTSU

Vandy

Vandy
S. Carolina at Miss St.
USC

Miss St

USC

Miss St

Miss St

Miss St

USC

Miss St
Arkansas at TCU
TCU

TCU

TCU

TCU

TCU

TCU

TCU

TCU
UNC at Illinois
UNC

Illinois

UNC

Illinois

UNC

UNC

UNC

UNC
BYU at Utah
Utah

Utah

BYU

Utah

Utah

Utah

Utah

Utah
Texas Tech at Ariz. St.
ASU

ASU

ASU

ASU

ASU

TX Tech

ASU

TX Tech

Last Week

6-4

8-2

8-2

8-2

5-5

6-4

7-3

6-4
Total Record
6-3

8-2

8-2

8-2

6-4

6-4

7-3

6-4



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Tags :  
Topics : Sports




 

Tales From The Cockpit: Off and Running



The phrase "a win is a win" may be one that most of us use when fending off the negativity spread by rival fans...but this win was much more than just a win.

South Carolina's 13-10 victory over Vanderbilt wasn't the kind of win over the Commodores that we may have grown accustomed to in the Spurrier era of Gamecocks football, but nobody should have expected it to be. This is the Muschamp Era and unlike the folks in Gainesville, we aren't looking for pretty at this point in our history.

We're looking for wins.

Starting the 2016 season with a road win, in conference, is an amazing accomplishment for this squad. Coming off of the horrible 2015 campaign and adding so many new and inexperienced players, a win of any kind was paramount to there being any hope for this season. This is especially true considering that the Gamecocks were the underdog coming into this game against what was being touted as a much improved Vanderbilt team (until USC won of course).

The first half was a bit of a headache for us fans.

The offense was non-existent in the opening half with both Perry Orth and Brandon Mclwain having little to no success under center...the only drive with any promise in the first half ended with a McIlwain fumble. Couple that with Deebo Samuel's fumbled punt and some boneheaded defensive penalties and the Gamecocks were staring at a 10-0 deficit heading into the locker room.

Not good, but then again it could have been worse.

Something I've said over and over since the day Will Muschamp signed on to be the new head coach at USC came true on Thursday night. This defense was much improved against two good (not great, but good) running backs. Most importantly, they remembered how to tackle...the right way.

No more arm tackles.

This was, in my opinion, the best defensive performance the Gamecocks have put forth since 2013. I'm not the only one to say that either. The defense was swarming to the ball, completing tackles and successfully covering the Vanderbilt receivers in man-to-man coverage.

That made this fan very happy. Not as happy as I was in the second half though. A half again dominated by the South Carolina defense, but what really changed the game was former walk-on Perry Orth.

All of a sudden the offense figured it all out, at least enough to swing the momentum Carolina's way. It started in the 3rd quarter with a 10-play 47-yard drive that resulted in a 48-yard Elliott Fry field goal and the Gamecocks' first points of the 2016 season.

Orth seemed to finally settle in and begin to trust his offensive line and playmakers. With redshirt Freshman A.J. Turner starting to find space, the passing game opened up for the Gamecocks and a new playmaker was born.

True Freshman Bryan Edwards turned this game around offensively for the Gamecocks.

After a first half chock full of dropped passes, Edwards started pulling down some great catches and helping Carolina move down field. That in combination with Turner's open lanes and Deebo Samuel erasing his first half turnover with a wonderfully run jet sweep brought the Gamecocks back from the brink of a devastating start to 2016, to a gutsy win to build on.

Then, out came the real hero of the game. Elliott Fry.

A questionable call on 3rd down left Orth in no-mans land behind a collapsing offensive line and getting dropped for a loss just outside of the "field goal range" graphic on ESPN...but the legend that is Elliott Fry cares not for ESPN graphics.

A career-long 55-yarder for the lead with just 35-seconds left in the game.

This kid is quite literally the man. He has ice-water in his veins and he smacks down rival fan twitter trolls on a daily basis. If anybody epitomizes the phrase "We Cocky," it's Fry.

Vandy still had 35-seconds on the clock after a touchback, but the Gamecock defense continued to dominate the line of scrimmage and finished off Vanderbilt.

Coach Boom is 1-0 in one of the most Muschampian games you will every see....and yes, a win is a win, but this one was so much sweeter for Gamecocks fans.

Now for some positives and negatives.

Positives:

  • Defense- swarming, tackling and holding Vandy to just 242 yards and 10-points.
  • Running Game- I think a combination of Turner and Williams as the season progresses will be very successful and very helpful to the passing game.
  • Playmakers- Turner, Edwards, Samuel and yes McIlwain...just gotta hold onto the ball kid.
  • Kicking Game- Was this even in question? In Fry we trust!

Negatives:

  • Defensive Penalties- Got better in second half, but penalties were a killer and helped lead to the 10-point halftime deficit.
  • Turnovers- Again, none in second half, but against better teams a 10-point lead turns into a 24-point lead very quickly. Must protect the ball and win the turnover battle.
  • Passing Game- Non-existent until late in the 3rd quarter. Have to be balanced in the running and passing game to extend drives and keep the defense fresh. When we get into the really difficult part of the schedule a tired defense will lead to ugly losses.

There are a lot of things that the Gamecocks will need to work on going forward, but there was also a lot to be excited about. Not only for the rest of 2016, but also into the future of this program. I think Muschamp has a lot more to work with than any of us thought.

So again, I leave you with one request...be cautiously optimistic and remember, in Muschamp we trust!

Forever to thee.

-Ditti

Find me on Twitter (@Ditti33), Facebook (/ditti33) and Instagram (dittius33).

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ESPN Upstate's Week 1 college football staff picks


Hope. Excitement. Optimism. Pessimism.

All ways to describe any college football fan's feeling toward their team's as kickoff to the 2016 season draws nigh. Unless you're a Hawaii or Charleston Southern fan, we're all sitting pretty and undefeated at 0-0.

That's all about to change with the biggest and best opening weekend ever to start a college football season. As we all know that start is tonight with 16 sweet FBS openers, including South Carolina on the road at Vandy.

Have trouble sleeping last night on College Football Kickoff Eve? Yeah, same here. And it had nothing to do with Kentucky's likely loss at home Saturday to Southern Miss but the far greater excitement and downright giddiness of how another exciting season will shakeout guided by the all-important College Football Playoff in year three.

Thanks to the CFB Selection Committee, teams are forced to go out and actually play people. The days of cupcakes for three-straight weeks are largely over, yielding the type of five-day stretch we're in store for beginning tonight. Because ultimately come December it's about three basic questions: Who'd you play? Where'd you play 'em? Who'd you beat?

Dabo Swinney said it best earlier this week: We aren't going to win the national title on Saturday night and we're not going to lose it either.

Preach Dabo, you're pretty good at it. However, some Playoff contenders are gonna get stung this weekend creating a steeper uphill climb toward the postseason. Others are simply hoping to get out of the starting gate in tact.

I'm going to dispense with a quick rundown of big games because there's simply too many to touch on. Readers of this space weekly during the college football season know our header picture is reserved for some of the cheer beauties involved in one of those said big weekend games. So FSU's "Golden Girls" get the opening weekend honor.

Speaking of opening, here's our ESPN Upstate Week 1 staff picks. Yours truly here took home the winning record last season, but that's unlikely to happen again as South Carolina Radio Sportscaster of the Year G-Mack is typically the most feared picker of our eight-man bunch. Happy picking!

Week 1 KB Greg Lonzo Mark H. Sturg Price Diesel Josh
USC at Vandy
Vandy

USC

USC

USC

USC

Vandy

Vandy

Vandy
Clemson at Auburn
Clemson

Clemson

Clemson

Clemson

Clemson

Clemson

Clemson

Clemson
Oklahoma at Houston
Houston

Houston

Houston

Oklahoma

Oklahoma

Oklahoma

Oklahoma

Houston
UCLA at Texas A&M
UCLA

A&M

UCLA

A&M

UCLA

A&M

A&M

UCLA
Georgia vs UNC
Georgia

Georgia

Georgia

Georgia

UNC

UNC

Georgia

Georgia
BYU at Arizona
Arizona

Arizona

Arizona

Arizona

Arizona

Arizona

BYU

Arizona
Alabama vs SoCal
Alabama

Alabama

Alabama

Alabama

Alabama

Alabama

Alabama

Alabama
Mizzou at WVU
WVU

WVU

WVU

WVU

WVU

WVU

WVU

WVU
San Jose St at Tulsa
Tulsa

Tulsa

Tulsa

Tulsa

Tulsa

Tulsa

SJSU

Tulsa
Ole Miss vs Florida St
Ole Miss

Ole Miss

Florida St

Florida St

Ole Miss

Florida St

Florida St

Ole Miss

Last Week

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Total Record
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Bigger shock: Clemson missing the CFB Playoff or USC going bowling?


I have pondered the question and my answer several times over the summer and into the early part of fall camp. 

What would be the biggest shock of the 2016 college football season here in the Palmetto State: Clemson missing out on the College Football Playoff or South Carolina punching its ticket to a bowl game? 

Call me crazy but it’s worth asking. And I am…because I’ve got my answer. 

Clemson is in virtually everyone’s preseason CFB Playoff final-four projections. There are a few exceptions but the consensus is that the Tigers a slam dunk along with mighty Alabama. 

Except one of two missteps and the Tigers would be out. A loss to Florida State and there’s still a chance depending on what else happens around FCS landscape. But a loss to the Noles coupled with another “L” at the hands of anyone else on Clemson’s regular season schedule and they’re out. Plain and simple.

The margin for error is thin but with the ACC’s newfound respect nationally thanks to two teams in the preseason top five, Clemson along with FSU’s leash got a little longer. 

Do I think Clemson makes the Playoff again? Yes. Do I think they lose sometime between now and one of the two national semifinals? Yes. Why? Because I think Clemson takes a step back defensively but having the nation’s best player and offense will do wonders to cover up the attrition on defense. 

A stroll down to Columbia and it doesn’t take a soccer fan to realize Steve Spurrier didn’t leave new head coach Will Muschamp with an abundance of talent. Mostly glaringly for the ex-“fun ’n gun” HBC is the cupboard looks particularly bare on offense. 

Muschamp can make chicken salad out of you-know-what defensively and put a respectable product out of the pitch. It’ll be a unit worthy enough of keeping the Gamecocks in plenty of games thanks to a very down SEC east once again but no thanks to an offense looking for playmakers in every corner of the Vista, the Horseshoe and the depths of Willy B.

Both programs are in new-found unchartered territory thanks to recent success on the field. 

Ever since Dabo took over, Clemson has been poised to break thru into the upper echelon of college football, defeating household programs in the postseason. And they finally took that step last year, coming within a Nick Saban trick play of winning its first national title since 1981. Now that the Tigers have scaled the mountain, do they have staying power? 

South Carolina enjoyed the golden years of Gamecock football under Spurrier. Three-straight 11-win seasons. I never thought it would or could be done during my time on Earth. But he did it. And proved USC is a job you “can win” at. But it’s not easy. 

Quarterback Dylan Thompson and company helped mask a mediocre 7-6 team in 2014 before the Gamecocks' talent pool really dried up last season (along with a coach no longer interested in being the HBC). It continued spiraling downhill before hitting rock bottom. Things may have finally hit the bottom and now be on the way up with the new staff, working to bring more talent back to the USC campus. That doesn't happen overnight or even within the walls of a calendar year. It takes time. 

I’ve said it on-air several times and I’ll say it again. This is a five-win team at best in Columbia. If Muschamp finds a way to get this merry bunch of Cocks bowl eligible, a statue outside of Williams-Brice should be erected immediately. And it should be built right next to the best coach in school history’s existing statue. 

Good teams lose. And let’s not forget, great teams also lose. It’s even easier for bad teams to do the same. Clemson could be a great team. Carolina could be a bad team. But I’ll be surprised if Clemson isn’t in the Playoff.

On the flip side, it’s clear the mountain is a steep one. And it’s even steeper navigating it from Columbia. . But Which is why I’ll be shocked if the Gamecocks are still playing football post-December. 

No matter, what I’m prepared to be shocked in many ways this season.


 
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Tales From The Cockpit: Cautious Optimism



Whenever I'm asked about why I decided to become a Gamecocks fan when I moved to South Carolina back in high school, it never takes me long to give an answer.

The fans.

Not the johnny-come-lately bandwagon fools that have probably already found their orange paw hats buried in their closet. The real fans.  The loyal fans.  The diehards.

The fans that showed up in force to not just tailgate and go home, but cheer and celebrate every single gameday even after watching their beloved team go 1-10 and 0-11 in consecutive years to end the '90s.  The fans that sat through the atrocious 63-17 dismantling at the hands of the hated Tigers in 2003 (my first USC vs Clemson game at Williams-Brice by the way...).

The fans that had to be constantly reminded by folks in Orange that we only get one in every six games and still showed up in their garnet and black, cheering for 2001 and singing "Forever to thee" after every single home game.

Those are the fans that I am talking to when I write this blog every week...and those are the fans that I am going to give this next message to.

It's time for some optimism...cautious optimism, but optimism none-the-less.

I've written in recent weeks about my thoughts regarding Will Muschamp, my picks for the Gamecocks upcoming season and my request for us to accept where we are and tip our caps to Clemson (for now).

What I'm referring to now is the amount of negativity I continue to see and hear from Gamecock fans.  I've never experienced this sort of negativity from this fan base.  Even when we expected mediocre to bad seasons the optimism and positivity was everywhere.

Now I write a column about how I think our boys will go 6-6 this season and I'm riddled with comments, from Carolina fans, about how it's not going to happen.  I'm not sure I even had a Clemson fan disagree with me on my picks last week, but some of my fellow Gamecocks did.

Look, I get it, the expectations that were set over the course of the Spurrier era changed the complexion of the program itself.  That I'm fine with and completely in agreement with.  My issue is with the inability to see things in any color other than black and white.

We all bought into the hype a couple of years ago and got a rude awakening on a Thursday night in Columbia when the Aggies laid the wood to our boys on national television.  That was the pride before the fall.  Then came the embarrassing attacking of players on social media during the very long and trying 2015 season.

It's either "we're the best" or "we're the worst" it seems.

I'm not a fan of that way of thinking.  I'm less of a fan of attacking 18-22 year old kids because you aren't pleased with how they are playing.  They're going through practice, they're taking those lumps on the field and they're busting their backsides for you and I and every other Gamecock fan watching.

But I digress.

It's time to be cautiously optimistic.  Even though our rival fans will remind us that there are worse records than 3-9, I highly doubt we will see them.  There is a lot to think positively about as we head into the 2016 campaign.

For starters you just have to look at the new head coach Will Muschamp.

He's always been a recruiting stud.  You take that and couple it with the incredibly talented and recruiting stud filled coaching staff he's put together and you can have faith that talent will be coming to Columbia in the near future.  We saw this over this past weekend with Jamyest Williams committing on ESPN.

Another thing to be positive about is the quarterback position.

We have three guys jockeying for the starting spot and two of them are freshmen. The other is a senior who has paid his dues, played through the toughest stretch any player of the last decade of Gamecock football could have imagined and came out as a much more mature and seasoned player.

I also see this defense improving by leaps and bounds.

I've said it a thousand times already, but it has to be repeated.  Will Muschamp is a defensive guru and will ensure that this defense remembers how to tackle.  I see guys like Bryson Allen-Williams realizing their full potential under Coach Boom and I fully expect this defense to keep the Gamecocks in football games all season long, even being responsible for winning a few.

My friends at the Orlando Sentinel have even told me that they expect better than the 6-6 that I have predicted for our Gamecocks...but even if my outlook is wrong, who cares?

What makes Gamecock Nation great isn't the result, it's the experience.  When it goes hand in hand with a winning season, it's just that much better.  So climb aboard the positivity wagon with me...let's be cautiously optimistic together.

I look forward to seeing you all at Willy B this fall and enjoying some Gamecocks football no matter the outcome.

Forever to thee.

-Ditti

Find me on Twitter (@Ditti33), Facebook (/ditti33) and Instagram (dittius33). 

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