With a new coach comes renewed hope, and South Carolina certainly needed it. The arrival of young, energetic and passionate Shane Beamer did more for the fan base in three months than the stodgy, businesslike Will Muschamp did in five years.
Beamer has been so good at community outreach, taking part in social media initiatives and attending other events around campus, that it's been easy to say, "The culture has changed!" and to think a return to the heady days of Steve Spurrier is just around the corner. Beamer was a huge part of those days; from 2007-10, he helped construct a roster that paid off from 2010-13 in the best-ever stretch of Gamecock football.
His excitement about his dream job has convinced a fan base starved for success that he can do what Spurrier did. They ignore the history and the numbers that unequivocally state that the Gamecocks are a struggling program, stuck in a conference that gives them a national profile but one that they can't take advantage of during football season. They're also looking past the fact that this year's roster is not strong.
"I'm honored to be your head football coach, but this is your program," Beamer said. "We're just getting started."
His start, due to the roster shortcomings he inherited, could be extremely rocky.
Previewing South Carolina's Offense for 2021
The Gamecocks return one of the most dynamic players in the country in Kevin Harris, who took over for the injured MarShawn Lloyd last year and promptly posted the 11th 1,000-yard rushing season in school history. It's not outlandish to think, "Quarterback Luke Doty can run a bit … why not group him with two running backs and run the triple-option?"
USC won't do that (most likely), but one never knows with the question marks throughout the unit. The line is sturdy, with the right side of center Eric Douglas, right guard Jovaughn Gwyn and right tackle Dylan Wonnum not missing a start last year, but the other skill positions beside running back are unknowns.
The starting quarterback spot will be decided between sophomore Doty and transfer Jason Brown. Doty started the final two games of last year, while Brown had a great career at FCS St. Francis (Pa.) but did not play last season after the Red Flash canceled their season due to the pandemic.
The receivers entered last season as Shi Smith and the No-Names. Now Smith has gone to the NFL, and not one of the anonymous names last year distinguished himself. The Gamecocks did get a boost when tight end Nick Muse returned. He's the top pass-catcher other than Smith last year. Otherwise? Josh Vann and Xavier Legette will play but have yet to really produce. Last year's mid-season pickup, Jalen Brooks, caught a mere 11 balls, while Dakereon Joyner mostly ran routes and then jogged back to the line. Brown's top man from St. Francis, the 6'7" E.J. Jenkins, came with him and will make a fine target for the QB.
Previewing South Carolina's Defense for 2021
The line is probably the deepest unit on the team in terms of veterans, and the onus is on the DL to anchor the entire defense. Simply put, the Gamecocks lost so much in the back end that they're going to have to stop teams up front.
With edge rushers Kingsley "J.J." Enagbare and Aaron Sterling returning, plus backups Jordan Burch and Tonka Hemingway, the Gamecocks have a strong nucleus that can hopefully solve their pass-rushing problems. They also added Georgia State transfer Jordan Strachan, who tied for the FBS lead in sacks in 2020 with 10.5.
Linebacker Ernest Jones departed for the NFL, depriving the Gamecocks of a player who was productive and seemingly always in the right spot. Damani Staley played hard but was often exposed.
New defensive coordinator Clayton White will experiment with a 4-2-5 scheme, which should save some wear and tear on the LBs. The Gamecocks welcome back Rosendo Louis Jr., Sherrod Greene, Mohamed Kaba and Jahmar Brown, who each missed chunks of last season with injuries.
USC lost five defensive backs to the NFL or the transfer portal, and while it does return some veterans such as Cam Smith and Jaylin Dickerson, the guys who made the plays are gone.
Even simplifying the scheme from Muschamp's NFL-heavy terminology may not help, as the Gamecocks plan to play mostly nickel. They may not have enough people to fill that fifth role effectively.
Previewing South Carolina's Specialists for 2021
The Gamecocks are solid here, with Parker White returning for a fifth year at placekicker and having a strong chance to break the school's career scoring mark. Punter Kai Kroeger was a gem as a freshman.
Excitement is rampant in Columbia, but the South Carolina roster only has a couple of stars. The Gamecocks could easily double their wins from last year (two to four), but there are still eight games that could go either way. Some think a 6–6 season and bowl berth would be the low end. From viewing the roster, that outcome would appear to be more miraculous than feasible.
National Ranking: 74
Podcast: Top 25 Breakdown and Predictions
(Kevin Harris photo by South Carolina Athletics, courtesy of gamecocksonline.com)