Last Updated: 2018-07-18
Given their performance over the last decade, it’s easy to forget how long South Carolina was seen as a moribund program. The Gamecocks didn’t have much success until relatively recently when Steve Spurrier took the program to new heights. Will Muschamp has been able to build off of that, albeit on the different side of the ball, to keep the program headed in the right direction.
There’s no doubt that Muschamp can coach defense. He is one of the sharpest defensive minds in the game, and his defenses through his first two seasons have been just as good as they were at Florida. If the Gamecocks are really going to challenge for the SEC East, they will need to be good on both sides of the ball though.
After going 6-7 in 2016 and 9-4 in 2017, oddsmakers made South Carolina’s win total 7 for the 2018 campaign. There has been heavy action on the over with BookMaker putting -155 juice on the over, while 5Dimes is holding at -140. 5Dimes has the best odds if you want to bet on the Gamecocks to win the SEC. There, they are +3050 to win their first SEC Championship. Keep in mind that these win total odds do not include conference championship games or bowl games.
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Once again, Muschamp is making a change on offense in hopes of finding someone that can get his team to score points. Kurt Roper was his OC for his first two seasons at South Carolina, but the offense ranked dead last in the conference in 2016 and only improved to 12th last year.
Former wide receivers coach Bryan McClendon is the new playcaller, and he will try to get points on the board by increasing the pace. He has stressed tempo all throughout the offseason, and the Gamecocks have the experience to make that work.
Quarterback Jake Bentley is one of the country’s hidden gems at that position. Any fan of the SEC will tell you that Bentley is someone that teams must prepare for, otherwise he might tear you apart. However, he was pretty turnover prone at the tail end of last season, and that must change. He threw eight interceptions over South Carolina’s last five games, and he nearly cost the Gamecocks with his three picks against Florida.
Bentley will get almost all of his favorite targets back in 2018. TE Hayden Hurst departed for the NFL, but Deebo Samuel is back in action after breaking his leg against Kentucky in the third game of the season. Samuel was the team’s brightest star, returning two kickoffs for touchdowns in the first two games, and he also tallied three receiving and one rushing touchdown in that timespan too. He should be Bentley’s No. 1 target.
The offensive line returns three of five starters from last year, and that will help both Bentley and the running game in 2018. This unit has suffered a lot of injuries over the past two years though, and they can’t afford to do that this year since they don’t have the depth they have had in the past.
South Carolina returns six starters to a defense that was above average, but not great, in 2017. The Gamecocks are strongest up front, with three of four starters returning, and all four of the projected starters are juniors. Javon Kinlaw is the beefiest player on an undersized defensive line, and he will likely be asked to hold his own in the interior of the line. D.J. Wonnum will look to disrupt off the edge and led the team in sacks and tackles for loss last year.
T.J. Brunson will likely be the team’s leader in tackles provided he stays healthy. He is inked into the middle linebacker role, and he will be asked to mentor some of the team’s younger linebackers. Outside linebacker Bryson Allen-Williams will return after suffering a season-ending injury that cut short his 2017 campaign.
Three seniors are projected to be starters in South Carolina’s secondary, but neither Keisean Nixon or Steven Montac saw a lot of action last year. Both players are a bit undersized, and that has kept them from being able to consistently contribute. The key to this unit will be Jamyest Williams who flashed a lot as a true freshman and will be coming back from shoulder surgery in the offseason.
Kicker was an area of concern for the Gamecocks last season, and South Carolina will hope that position has been addressed at the end of this year. Muschamp brought in a graduate transfer from Kent State, and there are two other players listed on the depth chart.
South Carolina does not have to face difficult opponents in back-to-back weeks, and that’s a reason to like this team’s chances in 2018. The Gamecocks will be underdogs to Georgia, Florida, and Clemson, but they might be favored in every other game on the slate. That’s probably the reason why bettors have been pounding the over.
Pick: Under 7 (+129, BookMaker)
Although Muschamp has signed off on McClendon’s offense, he isn’t going to have much patience with it if it struggles in 2018. There’s nothing defensive coordinators hate more than seeing a fast-paced offense struggle, and Muschamp might make his displeasure known if the change doesn’t see immediate results. This could be a tumultuous season for South Carolina, and I’m going to grab the under at this price.
-END OF 2018 PREVIEW-
The South Carolina Gamecocks were one, if not two, years ahead of schedule last season. First-year head coach Will Muschamp inherited a tattered and torn program from Steve Spurrier, whose desire to hit the golf course superseded his desire to recruit. To be fair, Spurrier took the program from a laughing stock to a team that won 11 games in three straight seasons, but it was clear that it was time for him to go and he did so on his own terms. Unfortunately, the program dropped in major fashion before he left.
Enter Muschamp, who gave the team a different identity and a much needed spark. He wasn’t alone, as freshman quarterback Jake Bentley stepped in and provided stability to an offense in dire need of that exact thing. The Gamecocks finished with a losing record, but got to a bowl game, and, more importantly, got some extra practice time. South Carolina also outgained a stronger South Florida team in that Birmingham Bowl. Was last year an anomaly? After all, the Gamecocks went 6-7 despite being nearly -6 in point differential per game and -76 yards per game. They managed just 16 points per game in conference play, but still went 3-5 against SEC foes.
Certainly, it looks like regression is possible. The Gamecocks have a season win total of 5.5 at 5Dimes Sportsbook, with -115 on the under, as there aren’t a lot of believers in the Garnet & Black for this season. Keep in mind that the number does not include conference championships or bowl games. It only applies to the regular season.
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Total Expected Wins: 5.64
Early-season indecision about how to handle the quarterback position held South Carolina’s offense down for much of the first half of the year. Senior Perry Orth and highly-touted freshman Brandon McIlwain traded reps early in the year, with McIlwain mostly coming in to operate RPOs (run-pass options). Six games into the season, Jake Bentley took over and South Carolina never looked back. He was supposed to redshirt, but Muschamp and the staff decided to forego that plan. Bentley completed 65.8 percent of his passes with a 9/4 TD/INT ratio. McIlwain, a two-sport athlete, transferred out, leaving Bentley as the unquestioned go-to guy for the offense. He’ll have top receiver Deebo Samuel and future NFL tight end Hayden Hurst at his disposal.
The running game was led by true freshman Rico Dowdle, who ran for 5.7 yards per pop on his 133 attempts. The running game struggled overall, as McIlwain failed to find holes and the rebuilt offensive line had some growing pains, as evidenced by the 41 sacks, but everybody has another season of experience in Kurt Roper’s offense. This should be an improved offense, with Bentley at the helm, extra practice time, and more stability in the second year with Muschamp and Roper.
Short on talent, but long on effort, the Gamecocks defense sold out on just about every play last season. They flew to the football. There were some big plays allowed by the very inexperienced defense, but they hung in there and gave the offense a chance to develop. This season, only four of the top nine tacklers return, but senior leader Skai Moore will be back on the field after taking an injury redshirt last season. Bryson Allen-Williams had 6.5 tackles for loss last year. Muschamp has a more experienced secondary, which has a respectable 20/15 TD/INT ratio last season, and a better idea of his personnel.
The Gamecocks had issues stopping the run because they were so underwhelming at the second level. With Skai Moore out, it was almost a revolving door in the linebacker corps. Add in a defensive line that just didn’t have enough playmakers to disrupt plays and the Gamecocks were forced to run passive schemes to focus on more of a mob mentality to stop the opposition. We’ll see if they get more aggressive with better tacklers in space in the back seven. Muschamp is a defensive guy and his recruiting ties span the southeast, with head coaching and defensive coordinator stints in Florida, time at Auburn, and also time at Texas.
The Gamecocks will probably take some significant steps back on special teams, with the loss of kicker Elliott Fry and punter Sean Kelly. The schedule is not real conducive to a good record, as the Gamecocks don’t have the luxury of two or three soft non-conference games like most SEC teams. A Week 1 neutral-site tilt against NC State is a tough game. Louisiana Tech should be a win, but the Bulldogs are a quality Conference USA team. Wofford is the only “gimme” on the schedule and even they went 10-4 and made the FCS playoffs last season.
Win Total Pick: Over 5.5
I believe in this Gamecocks roster. My numbers are right around the line, so this isn’t a strong play by any means, but the offense was dramatically better when Bentley took over and that, by proxy, makes the defense better as well. South Carolina was 4-3 after Bentley’s redshirt was removed, with losses to Florida, Clemson, and USF. The Gamecocks do avoid Alabama, LSU, and Auburn from the West, which is nice. It truly wouldn’t shock me to see South Carolina knock off Tennessee in Knoxville and finish third in this division.
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