#53 South Carolina Football 2017 Preview

South Carolina Gamecocks
Overall Rank: #53
#12 SEC
After missing out on a bowl game in 2015, South Carolina got back on track last season. The Gamecocks remained competitive against just about everybody in the SEC and managed to win three conference games against Vanderbilt, Tennessee and Missouri. That was enough to reach the Birmingham Bowl, where Coach Will Muschamp’s squad lost in overtime to South Florida.
2016 Record: 6-7, 3-5
2016 Bowl: Birmingham Bowl vs. South Florida (L 39-46)
Coach: Will Muschamp (6-7 at South Carolina, 34-28 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Kurt Roper, Bryan McClendon
Defensive Coordinator: Travaris Robinson
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Rico Dowdle, RB, 764 yards
Passing: Jake Bentley, QB, 1,420 yards
Receiving: Debo Samuel, WR, 783 yards
Tackles: D.J. Smith, S, 80
Sacks: Bryson Allen-Williams, LB, 2.0
Interceptions: Jamarcus King, CB, 3; Chris Lammons, CB, 3
Other Key Returnees: RB A.J. Turner, TE Hayden Hurst, WR Bryan Edwards, DL D.J. Wonnum
Key Losses: DL Darius English, LB T.J. Holloman, K Elliot Fry
Unlike when he was at Florida, Coach Muschamp should have a very potent offense this year at South Carolina. That was not the case during his first season with the Gamecocks, but there are ten starters returning on offense. Jake Bentley threw for 1,420 yards and nine touchdowns while starting the final seven games of the season. He started to emerge as a very good leader on the field and with that year of experience under his belt, Bentley should be much more efficient as a sophomore. He has most of his favorite receivers back as well. Deebo Samuel caught a team high 59 yards for 783 yards and rushed for six scores and 98 yards. If he can stay healthy for an entire season, Samuel will be in for a huge season. Bryan Edwards had a very promising freshman campaign, catching 44 passes for 590 yards and four scores. With tight ends Hayden Hurst and KC Crosby involved in the passing game, Bentley will have plenty of options. Hurst caught 48 passes for 616 yards in a breakout sophomore season and the 6-5 former walk-on who played in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization is a tough player for anybody to cover. The ground game returns leading rushers Rico Dowdle and A.J. Turner. Those two were just freshmen last year and still managed to play well. They will be pushed by North Carolina transfer Ty’Son Williams and provide South Carolina with plenty of depth in the backfield.
The defense has many more questions to answer. Most notable is up front where a poor pass rush could get even worse without Darius English and his team high 9.0 sacks. The pressure will be on Dante Sawyer and DJ Wonnum to pick up the slack. The return of Skai Moore will help the linebackers. Moore missed last season with an injury but was the team’s top tackler the previous three seasons. Bryson Allen-Williams, who tallied 75 tackles, turned into a leader in Moore’s absence and having both of them on the field should turn the linebackers into the strength of the defense. The secondary has experience now, but they need to be more productive. Rashad Fenton, Jamarcus King and Chris Lammons will man the cornerback spots and there is some new found depth thanks to the recruiting class. Safety D.J. Smith led the team in tackles last year, but he could stand to make more big plays. The story is the same with Steven Montac, although he will be pushed by freshman Jaylin Dickerson.
The Bottom Line:
If there is a halfway decent pass rush, the secondary should be able to make more big plays. And that is going to improve the defense across the board. The offense might actually be fun to watch and they have enough weapons to be one of the more potent offenses in the SEC. The lack of pure talent and depth on defense will keep South Carolina from competing for an SEC East title though. The schedule is not nearly as bad as it could be for a team in the SEC, but trips to Tennessee and Georgia will keep the Gamecocks happy to get to any bowl game.
Projected Bowl: Birmingham Bowl
2016 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 134.4 (108th in nation, 13th in conference)
Passing Offense: 213.2 (83, 7)
Total Offense: 347.5 (115, 13)
Scoring Offense: 20.8 (116, 14)
Rushing Defense: 203.2 (90, 9)
Pass Defense: 208.7 (39, 6)
Total Defense: 411.9 (66, 7)
Scoring Defense: 26.5 (51, 8)
Turnover Margin: 0.54 (24, 3)
Sacks: 1.62 (97, 12)
Sacks Allowed: 3.15 (118, 14)
Madness 2018 NFL Draft Rankings:
#67 Skai Moore
Madness 2017 Recruit Rankings:
#79 Jamyest Williams
#150 OrTre Smith
#153 Shi Smith
#234 Chad Terrell
#239 MJ Webb