The Coastal Carolina Chanticleers and South Carolina Gamecocks will meet inside Williams-Brice Stadium on Saturday afternoon for the first time since a 2013 matchup that resulted in a 70-10 victory for the Gamecocks.
The Gamecocks enter Saturday’s matchup having won 17 of their last 18 season openers. They have not opened the season with a loss to a non-conference opponent since 1999. Head coach Will Muschamp kicks off his third year in Columbia looking to extend that streak and build off the momentum of a 9-4 (5-3 SEC) campaign in 2017 that culminated with an impressive come-from-behind victory over Michigan in the Outback Bowl.
The Chanticleers are still acclimating to life in the FBS after making the difficult transition from the FCS ranks. Following four consecutive FCS Playoff appearances (2012-15), Coastal Carolina compiled a record of just 3-9 in its inaugural FBS season as a member of the Sun Belt Conference in 2017. Despite the rough start, the Chants did manage to close strong with victories in their final two contests to go along with a near upset of Arkansas down the stretch. Joe Moglia, the 2015 FCS Coach of the Year, hopes to get CCU back to its winning ways after taking the 2017 season off to clear up a medical condition.
Coastal Carolina at South Carolina
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 1 at 12 p.m. ET
TV: SEC Network
Spread: South Carolina -29.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Bryan McClendon’s up-tempo offense
We got a sampling of South Carolina’s up-tempo offense under new play-caller Bryan McClendon in the Outback Bowl. While it didn't result in a dominant performance, McClendon’s play-calling was good enough to overcome a stout Michigan defense en route to 26-19 win. Now, with a full offseason under his belt, McClendon will have to prove that his offense is up to the challenge week in and week out.
McClendon is charged with turning around a South Carolina offense that ranked near the bottom of the SEC in both scoring (24.2 ppg) and total yards (337.1 ypg) last season. The good news is that the Gamecocks open the 2018 season with eight starters back on offense. Even better, Coastal Carolina should make for an ideal opponent for McClendon to fine-tune his offense before the real test comes the following week against SEC foe Georgia. The Chanticleers return just four starters from a defense that allowed 34 points and 411 yards per game last season.
2. The Jake and Deebo show
The success of Bryan McClendon’s new up-tempo offense will hinge primarily on the improvement of junior quarterback Jake Bentley. Quarterback guru Dan Werner was brought in to help Bentley take the next step in his progression. But perhaps the biggest catalyst in Bentley’s quest to take a leap forward in 2018 will be the return of star wide receiver Deebo Samuel. Samuel was a one-man wrecking crew in 2017 before suffering a season-ending leg injury. In just three games, the elite playmaker racked up 474 all-purpose yards and six touchdowns.
The dynamic duo of Bentley and Samuel, along with standout junior wide receiver Bryan Edwards, should have no trouble unleashing an aerial assault of epic proportions against an undermanned Coastal Carolina pass defense on Saturday. The Chants struggled mightily against opposing passing attacks last season, surrendering 241.3 passing yards per game (90th in the FBS) and compiling just 15 sacks. The return of senior standouts Anthony Chesley and Fitz Wattley might provide the Chants with a puncher’s chance in the secondary. However, new CCU defensive coordinator Marvin Sanders will need far more than that to contend with what should be a much-improved South Carolina passing attack on Saturday.
3. Kilton Anderson
If Coastal Carolina is going to find any success on offense against the Gamecocks on Saturday, it will probably come via the passing game. After cycling through seven different quarterbacks in 2016 and six different signal-callers last season, Coastal Carolina appears solidified at the quarterback position heading into 2018 with former Fresno State starter Kilton Anderson at the helm. The senior quarterback played sparingly for CCU last season before starting the final three games, guiding the Chants to a 2-1 record to close out the 2017 campaign. Anderson also came off the bench to toss two touchdown passes in a near upset of Arkansas (39-38). He must improve on his 45% completion percentage from last season, but his 7-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio shows promise.
Anderson has a legitimate weapon at his disposal in senior wide receiver Malcolm Williams (43 receptions, 793 yards and 7 touchdowns in 2017). That combo should provide a decent test for a South Carolina secondary that features three new starters. Coastal Carolina also has four starters returning on the offensive line. Unfortunately, four of CCU’s five starters up front are just sophomores. That might not bode so well against a formidable Gamecock front seven, led by 2017 sack leader D.J. Wonnum (6 sacks).
Coastal Carolina should be an improved football team in 2018 with the return of head coach Joe Moglia and some stability at quarterback. However, the Chanticleers have some huge deficiencies when it comes to matching up with their big brother from the SEC. The Gamecocks are simply bigger, stronger, faster and better at every position across the board. There’s also a good chance that Will Muschamp will be looking to make a bold statement before the Georgia Bulldogs roll into Columbia the following week for a huge SEC East showdown. This will serve as a nice tune-up for that matchup, but little more, as the Gamecocks cruise to an easy victory over the Chanticleers.
Prediction: South Carolina 45, Coastal Carolina 13
— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.