They were fresh off of a shocking bowl win against Michigan, Jake Bentley was entering his third season as the starting quarterback and the schedule set up well for them to compete in the East. Reality came crashing in fast with losses to Georgia and Kentucky in September with the final result landing in fourth place in their fast-improving division.
They ended the year with a confounding 28-0 loss to Virginia in the Belk Bowl where they looked like a team that wanted to be anywhere but the Belk Bowl. That kind of defeat can certainly serve as motivation in the offseason, but one thing that has plagued Muschamps’ teams at Florida and South Carolina are turnovers and penalties. If that general sloppiness is cleaned up, and they can find a running game, things could take a turn for the better on offense.
They will have to achieve their goals without wide receiver Deebo Samuel, who will be the toughest player on the roster to replace thanks to his versatile playmaking ability. Lucky for them, Bentley has fellow senior Bryan Edwards as a reliable target. Both guys fall into the, “Seriously! That guy hasn’t graduated yet?” category. And while Edwards doesn’t possess Samuels’ speed or shiftiness, he has proven he can go up and get the 50-50 balls, time and time again.
August 31 vs. North Carolina (Charlotte, NC)
September 7 vs. Charleston Southern
September 14 vs. Alabama
September 21 at Missouri
September 28 vs. Kentucky
October 12 at Georgia
October 19 vs. Florida
October 26 at Tennessee
November 2 vs. Vanderbilt
November 9 vs. Appalachian State
November 16 at Texas A&M
November 30 vs. Clemson
As for the Gamecocks defense, there is a lot of head scratching considering Muschamps’ acumen, recruiting success and scheming ability on that side of the ball. They looked pedestrian at best in 2018 and will have to improve on that effort to make any noise at all in conference play. They get instant help with incoming five-star defensive linemen Zacch Pickens and return just about everyone else in the front seven. They have two young lock-down corners in Jaycee Horn and Israel Mukuamu who both now have a season of experience under their belts and should only improve with each game played.
The special teams will be serviceable with both placekicker Parker White and punter Joseph Charlton returning. But the loss of Deebo Samuel bites twice, as he was electrifying in the return game.
All in all, this is a South Carolina team that should be better than the 2018 version, but the schedule is brutal with Texas A&M and Alabama out of the West, along with their divisional slate. I also think Jake Bentley is who he is…a gunslinger who will have games where he looks like an All-American, followed by those where you wonder how he ever made it on a Power 5 roster.