SEC preview: South Carolina looks to challenge UGA for top spot in East

Kristin M. Bradshaw/The Red & Black

Georgia wide receiver Terry Godwin (5) fumbles the ball against South Carolina in Athens in November 2017.

 

Leading up to the start of the college football season, The Red & Black will preview each of the 13 teams Georgia plays alongside in the Southeastern Conference. Today, The Red & Black takes a look at the South Carolina Gamecocks.

2017 results

9-4 (5-3 SEC); finished second in SEC East

Summary of last season

Last season was a year of ups and downs for South Carolina and second-year head coach Will Muschamp. There were the highs of a win over North Carolina State and a hard-fought loss on the road at Georgia. But there were also the lows of losing to Kentucky and Texas A&M and getting blown out at home by archival Clemson. But last season’s 9-4 was an improvement over 2016’s 6-7 mark, it’s just an upgrade that got overshadowed by the second-year success of Kirby Smart at Georgia.

Muschamp making his mark

Muschamp has done a decent job of recruiting so far in Columbia, hauling in the country’s 21st-ranked class in 2017 and the No. 18 class in 2018. Fielding a good offense was Muschamp’s problem during his tenure at Florida, and the Gamecocks have ranked 14th and 12th over the last two years in points per game. If Muschamp wants to take South Carolina to contender status in the SEC, it will have to start with improvement on the offensive side of the ball.

Key returning players

• Jake Bentley, quarterback: Like the team as a whole, Bentley had his ups and downs last season. He did complete 62 percent of his passes for 2,794 yards and 18 touchdowns, but he also threw 12 interceptions. He’s started the Gamecocks’ last 20 games dating back to 2016, so he has all the experience necessary to become one of the league’s top quarterbacks in 2018. He also returns most of his weapons with the exception of star tight end Hayden Hurst, who is now in the NFL. Bentley’s ability to go to the next level will have a huge effect on South Carolina’s chances in the SEC East in 2018, but whether he gets to that level or not remains to be seen.

Bryson Allen-Williams, linebacker: Allen-Williams started last season as a captain before a shoulder injury cost him all but the first three games of the season. The NCAA granted him a fifth year of eligibility, which comes at a very convenient time to a South Carolina defense that loses one of the best linebackers in school history in Skai Moore. Allen-Williams was still limited in the spring, but the Gamecocks will need him to be at full strength to replace Moore’s departure.

Season outlook

South Carolina’s biggest game comes early, as it hosts Georgia in the second week of the season. The cross-division opponents are Ole Miss and Texas A&M, two very winnable games, and the regular season wraps up with a road contest at Clemson. Nine wins should be a reasonable goal for this season, but the Gamecocks could surprise many if they can pull off an upset against Georgia and beat up on the rest of the SEC East.

Printed with permission from The Red & Black independent student media organization, based in Athens, Georgia. For more UGA sports news, visit www.redandblack.com/sports.

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