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South Carolina Football: 2018 Gamecocks Preview and Prediction

Deebo Samuel, South Carolina Football

Deebo Samuel, South Carolina Football

South Carolina opened some eyes last season, especially with a victory over Michigan in the Outback Bowl. While offense has been an issue for Will Muschamp's team in his first two seasons, the hope is that a new coordinator and a dynamic quarterback-wide receiver combination will change that. The defense has to replace plenty of pieces but also has a pair of standouts to build around. For the Gamecocks, the timing may be just right to emerge as the second-best team in the SEC East behind Georgia.

Previewing South Carolina Football's Offense for 2018

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The story for the offense is another new coordinator for South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp. Bryan McClendon becomes Muschamp's fourth offensive coordinator in his seven seasons as a head coach. For the last two years, McClendon, a former Georgia receiver, has served as the Gamecocks wide receivers coach. He was promoted after Kurt Roper was fired following the regular season. The Gamecocks finished 12th and 14th in scoring under Roper, extending a trend of Muschamp teams struggling to put points on the board.

McClendon's solution, fully endorsed by his boss, is a more up-tempo system. "It's really simple: The more plays you run the more opportunities you get for yards and points," McClendon says. "You just get more at-bats - that's the biggest thing. We're going to try to keep snapping the ball and keep getting points, that's the plan. We want to be balanced and stay aggressive and be in attack mode as much as possible."

The Gamecocks averaged 24.2 points and 337.1 yards per game year ago, both of which ranked 12th in the SEC. The good news is they have almost all their offensive production back from 2017. It starts with quarterback Jake Bentley, who has started the last 20 games and thrown for 4,214 yards in that span. Bentley will benefit greatly from the return of wide receiver Deebo Samuel, who tied for the team lead in touchdowns last year (six) despite playing only three games. He missed the final 10 games due to injury.

Previewing South Carolina Football's Defense for 2018

Third-year coordinator Travaris Robinson, who soon could be in line to land a head coaching position, has to replace a bunch of production up the middle. Defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw and middle linebacker T.J. Brunson have first-team All-SEC ability, but South Carolina needs more bodies at both of those positions. Safety is also a work in progress. Rice grad transfer J.T. Ibe and freshman Jaylin Dickerson are two newcomers who could help right away.

Seniors Rashad Fenton and Keisean Nixon - whose youth football coach was Snoop Dogg - both have plenty to prove at cornerback. Sophomore Jamyest Williams, a key recruit in the 2017 signing class, missed spring practice after shoulder surgery and could either be the nickel back or move to safety. Texas A&M graduate transfer Nick Harvey is set to join the team this fall and should push for a starting job at cornerback.

Previewing South Carolina Football's Specialists for 2018

Sophomore kicker Parker White was 14-of-25 last year, including 4-of-14 from 40 yards and beyond, so it's no surprise that the job is up for grabs. Sophomore Alex Woznick, who started 2017 as the starter, and Kent State graduate transfer Shane Hynes will push White this fall. Punter Joseph Charlton is a known commodity who had a good year in 2017. The kickoff return game will get an instant upgrade with the return of Samuel, who might be the best in the nation at that spot.

Final Analysis

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If a Muschamp-coached team is ever going to get the offense going, this would seem the year with Bentley and Samuel in the fold. The defense has personnel question marks, but Muschamp and Robinson have earned the benefit of the doubt on that side of the ball.

With Florida and Tennessee in transition thanks to coaching changes, South Carolina can realistically enter the season with its eye on second place in the SEC East, the same spot it claimed a year ago. It's probably a bit much to expect the Gamecocks to compete with defending conference champion Georgia, but South Carolina gets the Bulldogs in the second game of the season at home, so there's always hope.

National Ranking: 27

SEC East Prediction: 3