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2021 SEC Football Season Preview: South Carolina Gamecocks

It’s a new era in Columbia! How will the Gamecocks look this season?

NCAA Football: Louisiana Tech at South Carolina Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

2020 at a Glance

Record: 2-8
SRS: -3.38
SOS: 7.42

2021 Schedule

(All times are Eastern)

9/4: Eastern Illinois (7 p.m., ESPN+)
9/11: at East Carolina (Noon, ESPN2)
9/18: at Georgia (7 p.m., ESPN)
9/25: Kentucky
10/2: Troy
10/9: at Tennessee
10/16: Vanderbilt
10/23: at Texas A&M
11/6: Florida
11/13: at Missouri
11/20: Auburn 11/27: Clemson


Overview

After five up-and-down seasons under Will Muschamp, the South Carolina Gamecocks have turned to former Spurrier assistant and South Carolina native Shane Beamer in the hopes that the program can get a boost. Beamer, who has never been a head coach, is also the son of longtime Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer, and has served under his father, Spurrier, Kirby Smart, and Lincoln Riley, in varying assistant coaching roles.

Beamer has his work cut out for him in his first season, as it’s never easy to come into the SEC as a first-time head coach and find immediate success. The offense will be aided by SEC leading returning rusher Kevin Harris, as he looks to continue to climb South Carolina’s all-time rushing touchdown list. Harris comes into the season with 19 career touchdowns, good for 10th in school history.

One of the most fascinating hires off the offseason was Beamer naming Clayton White his defensive coordinator. White has been nominated for the Broyles Award, given to the nation’s top assistant, three times in the past five years. In White’s four years as defensive coordinator at Western Kentucky, the Hilltoppers defense was a force to be reckoned with, holding strong in the red zone, rarely allowing points, and finishing in the top 30 in the country in total defense. If that can carry over to South Carolina, there could definitely be some potential for the Gamecocks to surprise this year.

Biggest Questions

We talked with Garnet and Black Attack’s Katie Dzwierzynski about some of the biggest questions facing the Gamecocks this year. Here’s what she had to say.

Robert O’Neill: The first year under a new head coach is always an interesting time for a program. What do you think fans are expecting to see in year 1 under Shane Beamer that they may not have seen under previous coaches?

Katie Dzwierzynski: I think Beamer brings a lot of passion and excitement in a different way than previous coaches because he truly wants to be at South Carolina. Looking at some of the most recent previous coaches, we were clearly always gonna be Holtz and Spurrier’s last stop, and Muschamp is ... Muschamp. Beamer called it a dream to be the coach at USC, and his genuineness (I think that’s a word?) is something I think will go a long way. He was also here before at a time when the program was really good, so he has that drive to get it back to that level. Beamer’s also really active on Twitter, which doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with him as a coach, but it’s just nice to seem him being so interactive with the fan base after Muschamp was at times adversarial.

Robert O’Neill: 2020 SEC leading rusher Kevin Harris returns for another season. Is it fair to assume the Gamecocks will rely fairly heavily on Harris while Luke Doty settles into his first full season as starting quarterback?

Katie Dzwierzynski: I think that’s probably fair, especially because Doty is hurt now so his status for the first game (and beyond) is unclear at this point. Harris racked up more than 1,000 yards last year while playing for a South Carolina team that, in a word, stunk. He’s been dealing with an injury too, so that could play into things to some degree, but I don’t think there’s any reason he won’t be a major part of the offense this season.

Robert O’Neill: What are the best and worst case scenarios for South Carolina this season, in your opinion?

Katie Dzwierzynski: The best case scenario for me personally is the same as it is every year - a national championship. In a more reaslistic view, I think the best case is a 6-6 (or better!) season. I’m not huge on moral victories, but I think pulling even a .500 record given all the factors at play - new coaching staff, new players, bouncing back from last season’s yikesfest, the general quality of teams USC will play - would be a major accomplishment. One of those wins coming against Clemson would obviously be even better, given their recent record and the fact that beating them is always the best possible outcome. The worst case scenario would be a repeat of last season, with disjointed efforts on all fronts and barely scraping together a couple of wins. Last year’s team was lackluster across the board, and it showed. The culture was poor and that was reflected in the games each week, but now it really seems like the team has a new energy with what Beamer and the rest of the staff have brought to the program, and hopefully that will be able to make up for some of the growing pains that come with all the changes.

Projection

While it can be tough to adjust in the first year of a new head coach and while they don’t have the most experienced quarterback play in the world, I think there’s a lot to like about the Gamecocks, thanks largely to Kevin Harris. While bowl eligibility may be tough to attain this year, I think 5-7 would be considered a success in Beamer’s first season. If you look at the schedule, I don’t think it’s crazy at all to find five wins.