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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

Need to Know

Texas A&M and South Carolina… Rivals?

Texas A&M, meet South Carolina. Gamecocks, meet the Aggies. Rivals? In name, perhaps. While the two programs have never met on the field — or anywhere else, for all I know — the SEC is expected make A&M and Carolina cross-divisional rivals; this was first implied by U.S.C. president Harris Pastides, who discussed the potential pairing over the weekend with a local news affiliate, and then confirmed on Monday over Twitter by A&M president R. Bowen Loftin. For Carolina, a permanent rivalry with the Aggies would end its annual game with Arkansas. The two have met every year since 1992, when both joined the conference – U.S.C. as a former Independent, Arkansas from the SWC.

For A&M, well, Carolina becomes the new Texas. Not quite an even trade, I know. Not merely in terms of the on-field product, mind you; in fact, a rivalry with South Carolina will likely be kinder to the Aggies, and should be far more balanced than their one-sided series against the Longhorns.

But it won’t be the same. Of course. Then again, it could have been worse: A&M could have been paired with Florida, which took a back seat in the SEC East in 2011 but remains a more intimidating presence in the long run. Get ready, Aggies – here come the Gamecocks. And here are a few things you should know:

1. South Carolina is in the midst of the finest stretch in program history. The Gamecocks have posted eight straight non-losing seasons, with the last seven coming under Steve Spurrier. U.S.C. won a program-record 11 games last fall, and a program-record 20 games over the last two seasons. In summation: Carolina is no longer the easy win it was a decade ago.

2. As a result, the Gamecocks are riding high. Few teams will enter the fall with greater confidence. That’s because of the way South Carolina ended last season, with November wins over Florida and Clemson and a convincing bowl win over Nebraska. On the other hand, Kevin Sumlin’s first task at A&M will be turning around the year-long malaise that defined the Aggies’ final season under Mike Sherman.

3. U.S.C. is your polar opposite offensively. Surprising, I know. After all, this is a Spurrier-coached team – and to most, Spurrier still means Fun-and-Gun. But while A&M will begin implementing the Air Raid offense during the spring, the Gamecocks have embraced a run-first mentality. The shift came after Connor Shaw replaced Stephen Garcia in the starting lineup last October; all of a sudden, U.S.C. buttered its bread with the ground game, and to unprecedented results.

4. The Gamecocks get after the quarterback. Even without Melvin Ingram, an all-American as a senior, Carolina’s end pairing is the envy of college football. There’s Devin Taylor on one end; Jadeveon Clowney can be found on the other. They’ll meet at the quarterback, say, 15 times in 2012. A&M has an up-and-coming offensive line, but they’ll have their hands full with the Gamecocks’ defensive front.

5. But you have things in common. South Carolina also has an R.O.T.C. program, for example. And there’s the Bob Davie connection. Davie was the defensive coordinator at A&M from 1989-93; he took the same position at Notre Dame in 1994, under Lou Holtz. Three years later, he was named as Holtz’s successor. In 1999, Holtz replaced Brad Scott at South Carolina.

If the SEC does pair A&M and U.S.C. on an annual basis, as expected, it stands to reason that the league will retain the rest of its cross-divisional rivalries despite its move to 14 teams. For example, that would maintain the yearly games between Alabama and Tennessee and Auburn and Georgia, two rivalries with roots in the 19th century.

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  1. trueparallels says:

    A&M is already paired with LSU by virtue of being in the SEC West.

    Paul: Should have made it clearer. Better yet, have used a different example. Was trying to imply that A&M could have a worse new rival in the SEC. Using L.S.U. was confusing; should have said Florida instead. Not going to change what I wrote above, but I hope this explains what that statement was supposed to mean. Thanks for the note.

    Paul (again): On second thought, changing L.S.U. to Florida. No reason to compound one mistake with another.

  2. DMK says:

    At this moment in history it’s an advantageous trade for USC too. I’d rather play A&M than Arky now, but I suspect those two are pretty even going forward: Arky will come back down to earth, but I fear that the Gamecocks will as well.

  3. Gotham Gator says:

    This change was made to set up a cross-division rivalry between Arkansas and Missouri, two schools from neighboring states. That one could be a blockbuster.

  4. GTWrek says:

    They should have just put Mizzou in the west where they belong, put Auburn in the East, made Bama-AU rivals, and assigned the newcomers to U(sic)GA and Tennessee. Slive isn’t half as smart as folks make him out to be. Which is why they got stuck with Mizzout in the first place.

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