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2018 SEC Football Season Preview: South Carolina Gamecocks

South Carolina was absurdly good in close games in Will Muschamp’s second season. Can they replicate that success in Year 3?

NCAA Football: South Carolina at North Carolina State Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

2018 Season Preview - South Carolina

2017 Win-Loss Record: 9-4 (5-3 SEC)

2017 S&P+ Rankings: 60th (Overall), 88 (Offense), 36 (Defense)


South Carolina was a bit of a confusing team in 2017, but there is one thing it definitely was: improved.

Will Muschamp took over a 3-9 team, took them to 6-7 in 2016, and then to 9-4 in 2017. At the same time, he’s improved their recruiting and patched together good defenses with defensive coordinator Travaris Robinson. Is it safe to say that he is doing a . . . . . good job?

It sounds weird to say, but it’s true. What’s helped Muschamp in Year 2 is his ability to win close games, as the Gamecocks were 6-1 in one-score games in 2017. That’s all well and good, but the logical next step to improving a program is getting out of one-score games. If the Gamecocks are to show any improvement in 2018, they have to start blowing teams out like the high point of the Steve Spurrier days.

Can Will Muschamp do that?


Offense

Will Muschamp has always been . . . let’s say . . . offensively challenged. It was, among other things, his downfall at Florida. No one can say he’s subpar at the defensive side of things, but he has often shown a reluctance to put his defense at risk with a more modern offense. Now, after another struggling season, Muschamp fired previous offensive coordinator Kurt Roper and promoted receivers coach Bryan McClendon. McClendon is supposed to implement more tempo into the offense, and new quarterbacks coach Dan Werner brings in some new RPO elements. That suits this roster well, but it more than likely won’t make this offense look like a Big 12 product in one season.

NCAA Football: Wofford at South Carolina Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

The biggest difference between Muschamp’s tenure at Florida and South Carolina so far is the quarterback position. He’s got himself one in Jake Bentley. Bentley came in as a true freshman against Tennessee in 2016 and has started every game since. While he has great physical tools, mobility, and excellent leadership qualities, he does have some notable flaws. His throws often sail over receivers’ heads and he turns the ball over a lot. Playing with tempo will help him however, and he should have an improved season overall.

The biggest reason Bentley will take a step forward season: his receivers. More importantly: Deebo Samuel. The senior lit it up in the first three games of the season, scoring six touchdowns in that span. Then he went down against Kentucky, and the offense took a massive dip. The other major receivers include junior Bryan Edwards and sophomores OrTre Smith and Shi Smith. They are all talented (especially Bryan Edwards), but they aren’t Deebo. Luckily, Deebo is back for his final season and the entire receiving corps looks to be one of the most dangerous in the SEC.

NCAA Football: South Carolina at North Carolina State Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

The running back room has talent, much like the receivers, but it lacks a breakout star like Deebo. Rico Dowdle, Ty’Son Williams, and A.J. Turner all have potential, but none have taken over the number one spot. In fact, all three share the dreaded “OR” on the depth chart for week 1. Despite the new offensive concepts, Muschamp still believes the ability to run the football in a tough manner is still essential to a good football team. He’ll need these running backs to assert themselves to unleash the potential of the Gamecock offense.

The offensive line is the key (it kinda always is). South Carolina shuffled their linemen around a lot last season, and that could pay dividends this season if they find the right lineup. This line could be powerful, and the pressure should be taken off a little bit by a more spread-style of offense. Depth will be an issue however, and any injuries to the starting five could be detrimental to the season.

Will a Muschamp offense be actually good? Who knows, but Muschamp is sure as hell trying and he is not leaving anything on the table. Expect Jake Bentley to lead his entire offense in a positive direction.


Defense

It’s a Will Muschamp defense, what else is there to say? Did they lose talented players in the offseason? Yes. Will they face offenses more talented than them? Yes. Will they still be good? Oh hell yes.

NCAA Football: South Carolina at Texas A&M Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

D.J. Wonnum is a stud on the defensive line. T.J. Brunson is an NFL Prospect at linebacker. Jamyest Williams made the 2017 SEC All-Freshman Team and is a developing play-maker at safety. Losses of veteran players like Skai Moore and Chris Lammons certainly hurts in the experience department, but Will Muschamp and Travaris Robinson will get that figured out.

The Gamecocks led the SEC in forcing turnovers last season, and while that’s not necessarily a sustainable statistic, it’s certainly promising. This defensive unit as a whole is a promising one as well, and should still lead the way for this South Carolina team. As much as Muschamp gets a bad rep for his offensive struggles, he deserves a serious benefit of the doubt when it comes to defense.

They’ll be fine.


Schedule

South Carolina 2018 Schedule

Week Team
Week Team
Week 1 Coastal Carolina
Week 2 Georgia
Week 3 Marshall
Week 4 at Vanderbilt
Week 5 at Kentucky
Week 6 Missouri
Week 7 Texas A&M
Week 8 BYE
Week 9 Tennessee
Week 10 at Ole Miss
Week 11 at Florida
Week 12 Chattanooga
Week 13 at Clemson

The schedule has some tough games for the Gamecocks this season, but some of the more important ones come at home.

The most important game for South Carolina comes week 2 at home against the Georgia Bulldogs. If South Carolina wants to seriously contend for the East, it needs to win this game. If the Gamecocks win, they hold full control of the division race. If they lose, they are forced to play catch-up to the Bulldogs and just pray they slip up.

The next main stretch comes in back-to-back road games at Vanderbilt and Kentucky. South Carolina nearly lost to Vanderbilt last season, and they did lose to Kentucky (now four straight, which is unheard of). After that the Gamecocks host Drew Lock’s Missouri and then their West rival Texas A&M (which reignites the Jimbo Fisher-Will Muschamp series). This stretch of games is tough, but South Carolina has shown an ability to compete with all of these teams, which inspires optimism.

After Texas A&M comes the Bye week and Tennessee. By the way, Will Muschamp is 6-0 all time against Tennessee. After that comes tricky road games at Ole Miss and Florida. Ole Miss can score on anyone and are a prime upset candidate, while Florida has a competent head coach again and is still talented.

Then comes the worst of the schedule: the road game at Clemson. The Tigers return the best defensive line in the nation and have dominated this series for the last four years. South Carolina should be better this year, but they don’t have the top-end talent across the board to compete with Clemson.


Projection

South Carolina improved drastically last season, but they had their flaws. Luckily for them, they did not rest on their laurels. The promotion of Bryan McClendon to offensive coordinator and the addition of Dan Werner as quarterbacks coach should improve the offense, while the defense speaks for itself. The Gamecocks are the favorite to be Georgia’s contender in the SEC East, and they looked the most poised to continue their progress. This year they’ll be in less one-score games, because they’ll be blowing a few more teams out.

Prediction: 9-3 (6-2 SEC)