The college football season can’t come soon enough. With every season comes new faces and possibilities. Who will be the teams to watch out for this season? This will be the first of many posts covering the top 25 teams in the country and will cover no. 25 South Carolina Gamecocks.
Will Muschamp is entering his third season as the head coach of the Gamecocks and has taken them to two straight bowl games. Last season was a great step forward for the program, as they won nine games, including the Outback Bowl against Michigan. The natural progression of the program leads a lot of people to believe the Gamecocks can have a similar year, or do even better.
With seven returning starters, South Carolina has a lot to be optimistic about on the offensive side of the ball, even though they weren’t the most productive unit last season. They ranked as the 99th best scoring offense, 110th in rushing and 77th in passing. With the experienced players coming back, these numbers are likely to improve.
Quarterback Jake Bentley is now a junior after getting thrown into the fire in his first two years in Columbia, as a very young starting quarterback in the SEC. He has 4,214 passing yards, 27 touchdowns and 16 interceptions on 63.4% completion. He will lead a passing attack that has many talented receivers to throw to.
Bryan Edwards and Shi Smith are returning after productive 2017 seasons. Edwards had 759 receiving yards and five touchdowns last season, while Smith finished with 409 receiving yards and three touchdowns. The big return though is by Deebo Samuel, who was only able to play in three games last year after breaking his leg during the Kentucky game. He totaled 783 receiving yards in just 10 games in 2016 and will make the offense more dynamic.
The Gamecocks have a stable of four different junior running backs they will use. They all got playing time last season, as injuries piled up. This season they will help keep each other fresh and will be rotated. A.J. Turner, Ty’Son Williams and Rico Dowdie will be the first backs to see carries, with Dowdie being the frontrunner to be the lead back. In front of these backs will be three returning starters on the offensive line, which should make them a good team up front.
In order for South Carolina to be successful this season, the offense needs to take a step forward.
Five starters are back for South Carolina for a defense that ranked 25th in points allowed per game. They were better at stopping the run, ranking 39th in the country, than they were at stopping the pass, where they ranked 69th in the country. Team leader Skai Moore is gone along with six other starters, so the Gamecocks will be looking for some people to step up in their place.
The defensive line will be solid once again with three starters returning. Defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw and defensive end D.J. Wonnum are juniors that will lead the way up front. Wonnum finished last season with 13 tackles for loss and six sacks.
While Moore is no longer at South Carolina, T.J. Brunson can help fill the void as a returning starter. Bryson Allen-Williams and Sherrod Greene are most likely to flank him, but Brunson will lead the way after 88 total tackles last season.
The secondary will need to step up this season, but has only one starter back in Rashad Fenton. Fenton was solid last season, but struggled near the end of the year. New starters Keisean Nixon, Steven Montac and Jamyest Williams are unproven commodities, although Montac had three interceptions last year.
If the defense is solid again this team can win a lot of football games.
The non-conference schedule features home games against Coastal Carolina, Marshall and Chattanooga. Their lone non-conference road game is at Clemson, which will be a tough game.
In the SEC, they play Georgia, but avoid some of the other giants in the conference, making the schedule manageable. They will want to beat Kentucky and Texas A&M, the teams they lost to last year in the SEC outside of Georgia.
With that, the Gamecocks will finish within the range of seven to nine wins and get a good bowl game.
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