Previewing South Carolina’s Offense in 2016
South Carolina finished 11th in the SEC last year and lost its best offensive player when wide receiver Pharoh Cooper gave up his final year of eligibility to enter the NFL. Replacing Cooper and finding more perimeter playmakers are vital for the Gamecocks, but the first priority for first-year head coach Will Muschamp and new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper is finding a quarterback.
There won’t be a more interesting quarterback competition this fall than South Carolina’s. The Gamecocks listed all five scholarship quarterbacks as co-starters entering the spring, but incumbent starter Perry Orth (collarbone) and sophomore Lorenzo Nunez (knee) were unable to complete spring practice due to injuries, allowing early enrollee freshman Brandon McIlwain to emerge. McIlwain ended spring as the top available QB ahead of Connor Mitch (transferred after spring practice) and Michael Scarnecchia.
However, the competition got more crowded unexpectedly when four-star prep quarterback Jake Bentley, the son of South Carolina running backs coach Bobby Bentley, verbally committed to the Gamecocks for the class of 2017 and then revealed he could graduate from high school early and enroll in college this summer. That means Bentley will be able to compete for the starting job this fall.
Junior tailback David Williams finally has emerged as the team’s starter, and Muschamp believes he could be an above-average SEC tailback. Sophomore Deebo Samuel, who is explosive but was limited by a hamstring injury last year, is the only proven playmaker at wide receiver. To compensate for the lack of depth at the position, South Carolina will look to tight ends Hayden Hurst and Kevin Crosby.
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Previewing South Carolina’s Defense in 2016
Linebacker Skai Moore, the team’s leading tackler each of the last three seasons, was slated to be one of the SEC's top defenders in 2016. However, Moore was ruled out for the 2016 season due to offseason neck surgery. Moore's injury is a huge loss for a team that finished last in total defense in the SEC a year ago.
The defensive line’s issues are well chronicled (99th in the nation in sacks with 20 and 102nd in tackles for a loss with 64 last year). The Buck position (a hybrid defensive end/linebacker spot) is a staple of Muschamp’s new defense and should help get pressure on the quarterback, particularly if sophomore Boosie Whitlow can have a breakout season. The biggest concern on defense is the secondary, where sophomore cornerback Rashad Fenton is the only player who has drawn consistent praise from the coaching staff.
Previewing South Carolina’s Specialists in 2016
There’s little drama here for South Carolina. Senior Elliott Fry, a former walk-on, will handle field goals and extra points for the fourth consecutive year. Senior Sean Kelly will be the punter, and senior Drew Williams will be the long-snapper, giving the Gamecocks one of the most experienced trios in the nation. The only question is who will return kickoffs and punts. Samuel is a very valuable offensive weapon and could take punts just to give South Carolina another chance to get the ball in his hands.
Muschamp has reminded folks plenty of times that he’s taking over a 3–9 football team. He’s even gone so far as to refer to himself as a 3–9 football coach. It illustrates the rebuilding project that is ahead of this group. The unprecedented heights of the Steve Spurrier Era (three straight 11-win seasons) are a distant memory, and the Gamecocks have to remake the roster, among other things. This is a team that very well could be starting a true freshman quarterback, has very little proven talent at wide receiver, an unproven defensive line and a shaky secondary. A 6–6 season would mark substantial progress, and anything between 4–8 and 7–5 is where realistic fans should set their goals.