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Opponent Preview: South Carolina Gamecocks

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Hootie & The Blowfish
The only good thing to ever come out of Columbia, South Carolina taught us that you can be anything you want to be. Except of the course the winner of the SEC East.
Photo by The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images

The Cocky Chronicle

Location: Columbia, South Carolina

Head Coach: Willard Ezekiel Muschamp. 4th year at South Carolina (22-17). An intensely private man, in his spare time he enjoys whittling, playing covers of his favorite thrash metal bands on his trusty theramin, Gerty, and stitching up his own gaping head wounds.

Stadium: Williams-Brice Stadium (80,250). “The Willy B” cost $113,086 dollars to build back in 1934, and it’s worth every penny.

I thought about your problems....

It’s hard to overestimate what a miserable time it is to be a South Carolina football fan. Sure, Will Muschamp has a series of two winning seasons going. But the last of those was an up-and-down, 7-6 2018 campaign that ended with a loss in the Belk Bowl. And during this relatively tepid run for the ‘Cocks they’ve watched their instate rival, Clemson, ascend to the top of the college football heap. And watched the school they view as a major rival, Georgia, come close to doing likewise.

Sure, Will Muschamp is the first coach in South Carolina history to lead his team to bowl games in each of his first three seasons. He also has more wins over thatperiod than any other Chicken-in-Chief in school history. And he’s recruited more consistently than any coach in South Carolina history, perhaps putting a floor under the program that’s never been there before. South Carolina football is moving in the right direction under Will Muschamp. It’s just that everyone they compare themselves to is moving there faster.

And then I screamed aloud....

But the indomitable spirit of the Garnet and Black fanbase keeps them forging forward. Sure, on offense the Gamecocks lose 2018’s top receiver Deebo Samuel. But for the most part the skill position talent returns intact. Senior Jake Bentley returns for what feels like his 11th season in Columbia after graduating early from high school and starting for UScar while his compatriots were still planning for prom.

During 2018 Bentley finally looked like the five star recruit everyone knew him to be, throwing for 3171 yards and 27 touchdowns. With Samuel gone he’ll look to senior receiver Bryan Edwards (846 yards, 7TDs in 2018) and junior Shi Smith (673 yards, 4 TDs).

Tailback Ty’son Williams, a former four star back and the top player in the state of South Carolina when he signed with the Gamecocks, has transferred to BYU. But 2018’s leading rusher, Rico Dowdle (123 carries, 654 yards, 4TDs) returns, as do fellow seniors Mon Denson (86 rushes for 432 yards) and A.J. Turner (46 carries, 294 yards).

Up front the line should be serviceable. Gone are Dennis Daley and Zack Bailey, who each started 12 games in 2018. But Cocky does return sixth year center Donell Stanley, who started every game of the 2018 season, as well as redshirt junior Sadarius Hutcherson, who started every game at guard. While the offensive line doesn’t have the depth of a Georgia or Alabama, both of those guys could be future NFL players, and building around them should leave the Garnet and Black with a better than average unit.

Look for offensive coordinator Bryan McClendon to give Bentley some additional responsibility now that he has the experience to be a bit of a coach on the field. It will also be interesting to see how much touted freshman QB Ryan Hilinski sees the field in his audition to take over for Bentley in 2020.

Then I sat back down and had a beer....

Defensively South Carolina may field one of the best frontline units in the conference. Javon Kinlaw returns after recording 4.5 sacks and 8.0 solo tackles for loss in 2018, as does senior Keir Thomas, who can play both inside and on the edge and racked up 44 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks last season.

Muschamp also nabbed an excellent recruiting class on the DL, including five star Zacch Pickens (6’3, 292), and four stars Jaqueze Sorrells (6’3, 310), Joseph Anderson (6’4, 268), and Jahkeem Green (6’4, 300). While none of those gusy is likely first team All-SEC in 2019, they will provide some good depth and form a strong nucleus for the future.

The departed Bryson Allen-Williams leaves a big hole in the linebacking corps, but team-leading tackler T.J. Brunson is back along with junior Sherrod Greene, both of whom started every game in 2018.

The greatest area of concern defensively for South Carolina has to be the secondary, where three starters from the 2018 unit have graduated. Versatile safety/corner Jaycee Horn and corner/nickel Jamyest Williams return after seeing significant duty last season, but this unit lost enough experience to be vulnerable early.

Among the specialists, both kicker Parker White and punter Joseph Charlton return, though the staff will have to figure out how to replace the yardage Deebo Samuel was good for on kick returns. Samuel averaged a jaw-dropping 24.8 yards per return on 12 attempts in 2018, and that stealth yardage was a real help to the Gamecock offense.

And felt sorry for myself....

The brutal truth for Gamecock fans in 2019 is that their team will likely be better than it was in 2018 due to a veteran offense and a talented young defense. But it won’t be better than Clemson, or Georgia, or Alabama. And likely not significantly better than either Florida or Texas A&M. All of those schools appear on the South Carolinians’ schedule in 2019, along with a solid Missouri squad who they’ll play on the road. South Carolina may have more moral victories than actual victories in 2019 despite taking some real steps forward as a program.

The Gamecocks will visit Athens on October 12th, later in the season than usual. In the past this would have been a major detriment to the ‘Cocks, whose lack of depth notoriously resulted in late season swooning. This year it may give some time for the secondary to gel and some of the young defensive linemen to break through the early season wall.

I expect a tougher game than last season, but ultimately Jake Fromm and the Bulldog offense are likely to have too many weapons for the UScar defense. Prediction: Georgia 34, South Carolina 24.