2017 RECORD: 6-7 overall, 3-5 in the SEC East
KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: QB Jake Bentley, RB David Williams, RT Zack Bailey, WR Deebo Samuel, TE Hayden Hurst, DE Marquavius Lewis, DT Kelsey Griffin, DE Dante Sawyer, LB Skai Moore, LB, Bryson Allen-Williams.
As we continue our series previewing Georgia's opponents for this fall, it's time to take a look at South Carolina.
Hopefully, no hurricanes will interfere with this year's contest set for Sanford Stadium, but the Gamecocks could come in with more offensive bite that Georgia saw during last year's game in Columbia.
To help us understand South Carolina better, we turned to an expert: GamecocksCentral's Chris Clark.
UGASports.com: What's the big question marks with the team this year?
Clark: "South Carolina will be better on offense this season, at least to some degree. If there are no significant injuries and the offensive line performs some level higher than its wildly inconsistent and poor 2016 campaign, there's a good bit of hope given the quarterback and skill positions. USC was not nearly good enough there last season, with the line play, unstable quarterback situation, and extreme youth all playing a role. USC should be able to run the ball and have success in the passing game. Defense is actually the bigger question mark, because the staff is still trying to recruit its way back into the type of defensive personnel we're accustomed to seeing from Will Muschamp-coached squads. Pass-rush is a big question mark, as is depth at linebacker in particular. Georgia had a field day running the ball on the Gamecocks last season, and that's still a big concern as far as being able to get off blocks consistently."
UGASports.com: What kind of season are you expecting the Gamecocks to have?
Clark: "I look at the 2017 squad this way, recognizing there's still a summer and preseason to go: the offense will be better, perhaps markedly so. I don't see many reasons to believe the defense will be significantly better than last season. The Gamecocks' personnel is similar, save for Skai Moore's return (which is big) and some newcomers who USC will be counting on for heavy contributions like JUCO DT Javon Kinlaw, DB Keisean Nixon, and others. Perhaps going into the seconds year of Muschamp's system will also help. The issue is that USC's schedule is arguably tougher than last season. Special teams are also a concern with USC losing its starting kicker, punter, and longsnapper. If this makes sense, this could be a better team than the 2016 version with a similar record because of the schedule. USC's offense may be its trump card in some games. Last season, USC couldn't count on outscoring anyone, but perhaps the team can accomplish that this season."
UGASports.com: Break down South Carolina's returning offense, weaknesses and strengths.
Clark: "South Carolina was able to quickly flip the skill positions through some savvy recruiting moves, so one could really pick any of those and be correct. The tight end group has talent and depth with Hayden Hurst, KC Crosby, and others behind them. There are three good backs (bolstered by transfer Ty'Son Williams being available this season), the wide receivers have some playmakers in Deebo Samuel and Bryan Edwards, plus some other guys on the roster and three talented incoming freshmen. The quarterback situation with starter Jake Bentley is good, but the extreme lack of depth behind him is scary."
UGASports.com: What were some position battles that took place in the spring you expect to continue into the fall?
Clark: "One of the offensive guard positions between Donell Stanley and DJ Park merited watching, although Stanley was the starter by end of spring. That one could continue, as could the left tackle race between Malik Young and Sadarius Hutcherson. The staff could look at some additional moves there too. One has to wonder if freshman Jaylin Dickerson can eventually break though as a starter at one safety slot; he went through spring drills with the Gamecock and has been a focus of the coaching staff's praise. The "battle" at running back between Williams and Rico Dowdle is really more of a 1A/1B type situation."
"Assuming I'm not limited in number here, there are several who could be named on offense. Zack Bailey has moved out to right tackle but is USC's best guy up front. Jake Bentley is someone the staff believes will have a very good season, while Hayden Hurst is one of the best tight ends in the conference and possibly the country. Williams and Dowdle at running back, the aforementioned Edwards and Samuel at receiver. Defensively, the Gamecocks will be paced by Skai Moore and Bryson Allen-Williams at linebacker. There are some capable players in the secondary and up front, but more of the star power is on the offensive side of the ball for this group."
UGASports.com: Were that any surprises that took place in the spring?
Clark: "Perhaps surprisingly, I don't think there were really any significant surprises during the spring as far as production by players who folks were counting on for strong performances. Left tackle Malik Young and safety DJ Smith probably had better springs overall than I anticipated, though that's not a statement that either have arrived. Most of the other commodities were fairly well-known going into the spring."
South Carolina 2017 Schedule
N.C. State (Charlotte)
at Texas A&M