COLUMBIA - Last year, it was Coastal Carolina's turn.
The Chanticleers ambled into Williams-Brice Stadium one week before South Carolina would host Clemson. The stands were half empty The score was ruthlessly lopsided. Coastal Carolina scored 10 points. USC scored 70 and headed to rivalry week.
South Alabama will get an opportunity to be the Gamecocks' "tune-up" game for Clemson this fall. Most observers probably expect the Jaguars to present the same kind of, um, "obstacle". And, for the most part, they'd be right. If South Carolina is rolling, it can pick its score against South Alabama.
But beware: USA is substantial enough to not roll over and play dead, especially if USC is looking ahead. South Alabama won't beat South Carolina, but the Gamecocks won't enjoy a 70-10 route either. Here's what to expect from the Jaguars.
Team: South Alabama
Coach: Joey Jones (25-15, fifth season)
Returning starters: 14 (eight offensive, six defensive)
2013 record: 6-6, 4-3 Sun Belt; four-way tie for third place Sun Belt
Scoring offense: 29.4 points per game (64th in the country)
Scoring defense: 25.2 points against per game (53rd in the country)
Series: First meeting
Last meeting: N/A
Three things to know about South Alabama
1. On the rise: South Alabama didn't begin playing football until 2009, and it didn't move up to the Football Bowl Subdivision until 2012. That season, the Jaguars finished 2-11. One win came in double overtime. The other was by a score of 9-3. USA got better quickly, though. It finished 6-6 last season and has legitimate Sun Belt championship aspirations this fall. A good showing at Williams-Brice Stadium - anything short of embarrassment - could serve as yet another stepping stone.
2. Tough out: Along its climb, South Alabama has been a headache for good opponents. It beat Louisiana-Lafayette 30-8 in last season's finale, ensuring ULL would have to share its conference championship with Arkansas State. (Speaking of Arkansas State, USA lost a heartbreaking one-point game to class of the Sun Belt at home.) Then there was Tennessee in September. The Jaguars trailed the Vols 24-0 at halftime inside Neyland Stadium, but outscored them in the second half 17-7. Tennessee may be in a historical slump, but a touchdown road loss for a program in its infancy is something to feel good about.
3. The trenches: South Alabama will bring perhaps the best offensive line in the Sun Belt and a stable of capable running backs to Williams-Brice Stadium. By late in the season, South Carolina's defensive line will have plenty of experience under its belt. Still, the Gamecocks' defensive front is thought to be one of the biggest question marks on the team, and there aren't any pushovers on South Alabama's offensive front.
Gamecocks schedule glimpse
Week before: Florida
Next week: Clemson