We take a closer look today at South Carolina's 2012 schedule:
Nonconference opponents (with 2011 records)
Sept. 8: East Carolina (5-7)
Sept. 15: UAB (3-9)
Nov. 17: Wofford (8-4)
Nov. 24: at Clemson (10-4)
SEC home games
Sept. 22: Missouri
Oct. 6: Georgia
Oct. 27: Tennessee
Nov. 10: Arkansas
SEC road games
Aug. 30: at Vanderbilt
Sept. 29: at Kentucky
Oct. 13: at LSU
Oct. 20: at Florida
Gut-check time: Any trip to Tiger Stadium is usually bound to be a kick in the gut. The Gamecocks travel to the Bayou on Oct. 13. The game itself will be hard enough, especially when you consider that the Tigers have three potential first-rounders on their defensive line. But going on the road to face LSU sandwiched between key Eastern Division contests against Georgia and Florida easily makes the LSU trip the toughest test on the Gamecocks' schedule.
Trap game: The opener at Vanderbilt is one that should have everybody in Gamecock Land nervous. For one, Vanderbilt has played South Carolina tough in recent years, and had some success. And with it being a Thursday night game on the road, those are always a bit tricky. In fact, the last time South Carolina faced Vanderbilt on a Thursday in Nashville (2008), the then No. 24-ranked Gamecocks limped away a loser.
Snoozer: The Gamecocks get UAB at home the third week of the season and a week after hosting East Carolina. It will still be uncomfortably hot that time of year in Columbia, S.C., but neither game figures to be hotly contested.
Telltale stretch: The month of October will either validate the Gamecocks or expose them. It starts with a home date against Georgia on Oct. 6, a game that has historically been played the second week of the season, and then it's on the road for back-to-back games at LSU and Florida. The October pressure-cooker concludes with Tennessee paying a visit to Williams-Brice Stadium on Oct. 27. Think the Gamecocks might take a 3-1 record right now and be done with it, especially if that one loss were to LSU?
Final analysis: One of the first things that sticks out about South Carolina's schedule is that the Gamecocks play six straight SEC games without a break, starting with Missouri at home on Sept. 22, and three of those games are on the road. Having to play at LSU and Arkansas at home is a huge disadvantage for the Gamecocks in the East race when you consider that Georgia avoids Alabama, Arkansas and LSU for the second straight year. Arkansas has had South Carolina's number, too, and the Hogs will get the Gamecocks coming off that grueling October stretch. It helps some that South Carolina will get a bye before the Hogs come to town. The key game is obviously Georgia. If the Gamecocks can beat the Bulldogs for a third straight season, they could afford a loss at LSU and still be in control of their own destiny in the East. All in all, getting to 11 wins again will be a major undertaking, especially with the trip to Clemson lurking there at the end of the season. The Gamecocks have won three in a row against the Tigers and haven't won four straight in the series since 1951-54. Not only that, but South Carolina has never won three straight against Georgia, which is what the Gamecocks will be gunning for in 2012.