CBS Sports analyst Rick Neuheisel said South Carolina’s first game is crucial for Will Muschamp. Neuheisel highlighted the importance of the South Carolina-Vanderbilt game on Thursday’s CBS Sports media conference call, which also included fellow commentators Gary Danielson and Verne Lundquist.
“That’s going to be a whale of an opener,” Neuheisel said.
Neuheisel feels Muschamp, dismissed at Florida in 2014 after compiling a 28-21 record in four seasons, must get quick results in Columbia to show he's ready to chart a more successful course in his second head-coaching act.
"Speaking as a fired football coach, for him to get another chance at a Power Five school, especially in a conference as deep and rich as the SEC, is a remarkable achievement," said Neuheisel, who coached at Colorado, Washington and UCLA.
Muschamp's task begins with Thursday night's kickoff in Nashville, which matches the two SEC teams with the worst overall records in 2015 (3-9 for South Carolina, 4-8 for Vanderbilt).
"I know what he's doing," Neuheisel said. "He's sitting there circling games on that schedule that he thinks he might win, so that he can get himself into the postseason. Because if he can get himself into the postseason, given where they were a year ago, they're going to call that a huge success. One of those games is this opener against Vanderbilt."
Perhaps not coincidentally, Neuheisel said, coach Derek Mason and his Commodores likely will view the situation similarly.
"And I promise you, if you're on the other side of things, Derek Mason's circling that same game, thinking that's one of the six he can win to get to the postseason," Neuheisel said.
Neuheisel felt that given the stakes, Muschamp might be more likely to select senior quarterback Perry Orth over true freshmen Brandon McIlwain and Jake Bentley.
"It might be safer to go with a guy who's played a little, like Perry Orth, and have a chance to win that game on defense," Neuheisel said. "I think both teams in that opener are going to try to win that game with their defense."
If the start goes bad for South Carolina, Danielson said the tide could quickly turn against Muschamp.
"They open with three teams that they should be able to compete with," Danielson said. "But all three in the SEC are on the road. That could make this a really long season or a really exciting season."
Following Vanderbilt, the Gamecocks play Mississippi State, non-conference opponent East Carolina and Kentucky before plunging into the heart of the schedule. South Carolina's October opponents include Texas A&M, Georgia and Tennessee.
"It's three games... Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and Kentucky, all games they have to win," Danielson said. "And then it gets a lot tougher after that."
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