South Carolina's road to Atlanta goes through a few other towns during the middle of the season.
Nonconference opponents (with 2012 records)
Aug. 29: North Carolina (8-4)
Sept. 28: at Central Florida (10-4)
Nov. 23: Coastal Carolina (8-5)
Nov. 30: Clemson (11-2)
SEC home games
Sept. 14: Vanderbilt
Oct. 5: Kentucky
Nov. 2: Mississippi State
Nov. 16: Florida
SEC road games
Sept. 7: at Georgia
Oct. 12: at Arkansas
Oct. 19: at Tennessee
Oct. 26: at Missouri
Gut-check time: The Gamecocks get back their usual early season matchup with Georgia in Week 2. Even though the Gamecocks have won three straight against the Bulldogs, Georgia has won the East the past two years. Still, if South Carolina wants to get back to the SEC championship in Atlanta the Gamecocks are going to want to start the season off with a win against the the Dawgs. And Georgia ends September with LSU, so the Gamecocks have a chance to take a two-game lead with an early win.
Trap game: Two weeks after what should be a fun game against Vanderbilt in Week 3, South Carolina heads to the Sunshine State to take on Central Florida. The Knights return 11 starters, including 3,000-yard passer Blake Bortles and five of his top six receivers, and are coming off of a 10-win season. The Gamecocks get two weeks to prepare, but they've been known to play down to their competition, and this is a true road game.
Snoozer: The Gamecocks have a decent nonconference schedule, but they face quite the cupcake when Coastal Carolina comes to town on Nov. 23. It will be a nice change of pace after the Florida game and before having to play Clemson, and the Gamecocks will no doubt be heavily favored in this one.
Telltale stretch: South Carolina will be on the road four times from the end of September until the end of October. Three road games come in a row, starting on Oct. 12 with a trip to Arkansas. The Gamecocks then face Tennessee and Missouri away from Williams-Brice Stadium. Now, these three opponents are all coming off over very bad seasons, with Arkansas and Tennessee both having new coaches, but these are true road games in the SEC. Drop any one of those, and the Gamecocks could find themselves in a bit of a hole in terms of winning the Eastern Division before Florida heads to Columbia on Nov. 16.
Finale analysis: The Gamecocks clearly showed that they aren't afraid to add a little meat to their schedule. Outside of Coastal Carolina, South Carolina has a challenging nonconference schedule with North Carolina, Central Florida (on the road) and Clemson on this fall's slate. If this were a playoff year, the Gamecocks probably wouldn't have to worry too much about strength of schedule. As for the SEC portion of the schedule, the league didn't do South Carolina any favors by making it the only school with three straight SEC road games in three straight weeks. The good news is that all three teams -- Arkansas, Tennessee and Missouri -- had losing records last season, but they are still road games in SEC territory. Slipping up during that stretch could cost the Gamecocks the East. Clearly getting off to a fast start against Georgia in Week 2 will help, but if South Carolina wants to make it back to Atlanta, the Gamecocks will likely have to beat Florida later in the season as well. Luckily for the Gamecocks, that game is in Columbia.