Missouri and South Carolina were in similar situations when the season began. Right now, they’re moving in opposite directions.
Both the Tigers (2-6, 0-4 Southeastern Conference) and Gamecocks (4-4, 2-4), who meet Saturday, started this season with new coaches, young players and programs looking to move on from highly successful leaders in Missouri’s Gary Pinkel and South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier.
But while Missouri has lost four in a row and 10 straight in SEC play, South Carolina has some pep in its step with two consecutive wins since moving freshman quarterback Jake Bentley into the starting lineup last month.
Bentley followed up a debut win over UMass on Oct. 22 with a stunning, 24-21 win over then-No. 18 Tennessee a week ago. The Gamecocks had only two touchdown passes in its first six games with Bentley on the bench. He’s thrown four in the past two games to seemingly revive a team that looked destined for a second-straight season without a bowl game.
Gamecocks coach Will Muschamp said Bentley is a hard worker who prepared the right way for his moment.
“Certainly seeing him in his first start, playing consistently in his second start against a very good defense, you certainly feel good about the future,” Muschamp said.
The future’s a bit cloudier for the Tigers, who have not won an SEC game since defeating South Carolina in 2015. They’ve lost their four league games by a nearly 20-point average margin and sit last in SEC total defense under first-time head coach Barry Odom. They were beaten 35-21 by Kentucky last week.
“There’s a lot of people who want Mizzou football to be good, and I understand that,” Odom said. “I don’t take losses very well, and I won’t ever”
There may not be much he can do about this season, however.
Some other things to watch when Missouri plays at South Carolina:
FORMER COACHES: The last time these teams played, two of the game’s all-time greats in South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier and Missouri’s Gary Pinkel led the way. However, less than two weeks the Tigers’ 24-10 victory, Spurrier walked away from the Gamecocks. Pinkel followed a few weeks later when he revealed he had been diagnosed with lymphoma and needed to give up the game.
YOUNG PLAYERS: Missouri and South Carolina are two of the country’s most inexperienced teams. The Tigers have played 24 first-year starters, second in the country behind Illinois 25. The Gamecocks are not too far behind with 19 first-year players, tied for sixth most in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
LOCKED IN: Missouri quarterback Drew Lock has accounted for 2,354 yards of offense this season for an average of 294 yards. He’s third in the SEC behind Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly and Texas A&M quarterback Trevor Knight. Lock threw for 136 yards and two TDs in last year’s win over the Gamecocks.
DOWDLE TIME: South Carolina freshman running back Rico Dowdle gained 127 yards, his first game over the century mark, on 27 carries to lead the offense in the win over Tennessee last week. The carries were the most any Gamecock runner has had since Kenny Miles had 27 rushes in a win over Wofford in 2012.
BOWL FOCUS: Missouri and South Carolina can still mathematically win six games and qualify for a bowl game. It seems like a simpler task for the Gamecocks than the Tigers. South Carolina is favored to defeat Missouri, then has FCS opponent Western Carolina at home two weeks later. Missouri has Vanderbilt at home next week before playing at Tennessee and closing the season against Arkansas.