2018 Record: 7-6, 4-4 SEC
2018 S&P+ Rankings: Overall (20th), Offense (21st), Defense (40th)
Year four of the Will Muschamp era for the South Carolina Gamecocks is set to begin this weekend. Year. Four. As hard as that is to believe, the setting and opponent for the opening game is very believable if you’re a Gamecock fan. That’s because they are set to play an ACC team (North Carolina) at Bank of America Stadium yet again. Bank of America Stadium is referred to as “Williams-Brice North” by what is surely a handful of guys trying to get that nickname to catch on.
Last season was full of ups and downs. The only point in the season where Carolina won consecutive games was weeks eight and nine, defeating Tennessee and Ole Miss respectively. Injuries were also a major issue last season that more than likely hampered results. This was especially the case on defense.
The 2018 season ended on an especially sour note in the Belk Bowl vs. Virginia where Muschamp and Co. were shut out and mustered less than 50 yards rushing. While the tailbacks look to be improved heading into this season, preventing rushing numbers like these will be one of the major themes for the Gamecocks in 2019.
3 Key Factors
1. The Rushing Offense
Jake Bentley put up solid numbers last season: 3,171 passing yards and 27 touchdowns, but he also threw 14 interceptions. His INT number was highest in the SEC. There was an abundance of receiving weapons at Bentley’s disposal last season (with many returning this season), but the rushing attack let the team down in many spots. There was simply too much pressure to produce through the air. Bryan McClendon was tasked to speed up the play of the offense as OC. He indeed accomplished this, but to a fault.
It’s one thing to play fast, but it’s another to rank dead last in America in average time of possession per game. That’s a lot of three and outs. The reason for this was because the backs only managed a paltry 147 yards per game. There was no consistency with who carried the bulk of the load either, with the number of carries for Rico Dowdle, Mon Denson and now BYU Cougar, Ty’Son Williams fluctuating each game. No one stepped up and you can argue that no was was even given the chance to step up and run the dang ball.
Dowdle and Denson are returning this season along with A.J. Turner, but the x-factor in this season’s rushing attack will more than likely be a transfer from Clemson of all places. Tavien Feaster is a former top-30 national recruit that would have been the guy in Death Valley if not for another elite tailback in Travis Etienne. He adds definite talent to the RB room that already had a collective chip on its shoulder. The addition of Feaster should allow Gamecocks to use a little more clock and could also get them over the hump in some close games this season.
2. The Secondary
There is a lot of hype surrounding Carolina’s front seven this season and for good reason. Veteran playmakers Javon Kinlaw, T.J. Brunson and D.J. Wonnum all return for 2019 and have that group looking pretty threatening. Heading into this season, the questions on defense are raised when you move to the secondary.
106 total tackles and 3 interceptions from last season have departed the team with Steven Montac and Rashad Fenton. The most productive returners in defensive backfield are Jaycee Horn, a true sophomore and Jamyest Williams, a junior. All in all, the DBs for the Gamecocks are a largely unproven group that have to face some daunting passing attacks this season. This unit will make or break the fortunes of the defense.
3. The Schedule
2019 South Carolina Gamecocks Schedule
|8/31||vs. UNC (in Charlotte)|
|8/31||vs. UNC (in Charlotte)|
|11/16||at Texas A&M|
...this is real.
The schedule has been discussed to death for obvious reasons. South Carolina’s 2019 slate is the hardest I’ve seen since I began following the sport in the early 2000s and most likely ranks high among the hardest ever. When projecting the record for this squad, the easiest place to start is just preemptively chalking the matchups against the preseason top three teams in both polls, Clemson, Alabama and Georgia as losses. Of course this is not guaranteeing these games as losses, but projecting them as such is only logical. That leaves nine games available for real discussion.
The opener against UNC in Mack Brown’s first game back as head coach of the Heels should be one that sees the Gamecocks come out on top. The same goes for Week 2’s tilt against Charleston Southern.
The two games following Alabama are CRUCIAL if Carolina plans to make it to a decent bowl game. These are at Missouri on 9/21 and Kentucky at home on 9/28. I believe that the outcomes of these games will not mirror recent history. Kelly Bryant, Larry Rountree III and Albert Okwuegbunam will prove to be just a little too much for the defense to handle. Against Kentucky, the South Carolina receivers led by Bryan Edwards and Shi Smith should be able to have a nice day against a brand new secondary for UK. Tavien Feaster could prove to be the piece needed to finally go toe-to-toe and keep drives alive if this turns into another ground and pound affair with the Wildcats. If there’s one game this team and fan base wants to win outside of Clemson, it’s the Kentucky game. Carolina loses to Mizzou for the first time in three seasons, but finally defeats UK again after five.
The schedule remains tough after the first bye on 10/5. After travelling to Georgia, the Cocks have to turn around and play Florida. I see this as a toss up, but I think this will be the only potential upset win of the year in a close game. Up on Rocky Top on 10/21, I think sloppy mistakes and Tennessee’s sneaky great passing attack will expose the secondary. Gamecocks lose to the Vols for first time since 2015.
Prediction: 6-6 (3-5)