Only 7 rosters return more production than USCe in 2017 as they bring back 16 starters from a team that finished 6-7 after a tough OT loss to a quality South Florida team in the Birmingham Bowl.
Fans in Columbia are not only excited about the amount of returning experience, but also because of how their Gamecocks finished after Jake Bentley took over under center. The Cocks started the year 2-4 averaging an abysmal 14 points per game before Muschamp made the switch to Bentley. After the QB change, South Carolina finished the regular season 4-2 and essentially doubled their offensive production to 27 points per game; a pretty remarkable achievement for a true freshman QB who skipped his senior year of high school.
Bentley will lead an offense that returns 10 of 11 starters including both leading rushers from a season ago, Rico Dowdle and AJ Turner, who were also freshman last season. South Carolina also returns all 3 starting wide receivers from 2016 led by Deebo Samuel. Add in Hayden Hurst, who may end up being the best TE in the SEC, and you have a very solid group of returning skilled position players on offense.
The production of the skilled positions players will be limited without significant improvement from the offensive line. During fall camp, coaches have been giving specific attention on an offensive line that allowed a horrendous 41 sacks last season. The group does return 4 of 5 starters, but that might not necessarily be a positive for a unit ranked almost dead last nationally in Adjusted Sack Rate in 2016. USCe does also get Stanley back at LG after he missed all of last season with an injury sustained in the first game of the season which could potentially help in the growth of this unit.
On Defense, South Carolina should be strong up the middle. They will have two returning starting seniors at DT (Ulric Jones and Taylor Stallworth) and LB will be the strongest position on the defense with the return of Skai Moore, who will join Allen-Williams and Brunson. However, there are major questions off of the edge as South Carolina struggled mightily putting pressure on opposing QBs in 2016 and will need to replace both starting defensive ends. The USCe defense only totaled a paltry 21 sacks in 2016 and 9 of those 21 came from DE English who they will need to replace. Questions also remain with the secondary despite getting all 4 starters back. Similar to the Offensive Line plot line, the experience must equate to improved production in the defensive backfield.
South Carolina fans should be very concerned about their special teams considering they lost the services of their kicker, punter and long snapper in the offseason. Elliott Fry, the school's all time leading scorer and USCe kicker since 2012, will be sorely missed if they can't find a reliable leg.
Expected Win Totals
CW Projected Total Wins: 5.6
CW Projected SEC Wins: 3.4
Posted Total Wins: O 5.5 -125
Home Field Advantage: 2.8
Opening Power Rating: 54
|Sep 2||South Carolina||NC State||NCST -5.5|
|Sep 9||South Carolina||Missouri||MIZZ +1.5|
|Sep 16||Kentucky||South Carolina||SC +2.5|
|Sep 23||LA Tech||South Carolina||SC -10.5|
|Sep 30||South Carolina||Texas A&M||TA&M -3|
|Oct 7||Arkansas||South Carolina||SC -3.5|
|Oct 14||South Carolina||Tennessee||TENN -7.5|
|Oct 28||Vanderbilt||South Carolina||SC -4|
|Nov 4||South Carolina||Georgia||UGA -6|
|Nov 11||Florida||South Carolina||SC +2.5|
|Nov 18||Wofford||South Carolina||SC -7.5|
|Nov 25||Clemson||South Carolina||SC +10.5|
|Legend: After bye week / Overlook Watch / B2B road games / Neutral site|
My projections have the Gamecocks playing multiple coin flip games - 8 games with a spread of 6 or less. A few late bounces could be the difference between 8 and 4 wins. As a result, gauging their season win total of 5.5 becomes almost impossible especially with a young team and a second year Head Coach. I recommend staying away from any season long South Carolina futures.
I have recently taken a week 1 position involving South Carolina and put money down on North Carolina State -4 in Week 1. I believe NC State will be better than most forecasts and think this is a favorable matchup for the Pack. Bradley Chubb, a potential future number 1 overall pick in the NFL draft, should abuse the USCe offensive line from the very first snap.
Keep your eye on how healthy WR Deebo Samuel stays throughout the season. He has missed substantial time the last two years as a result of hamstring issues. The Gamecocks offense will just not be as explosive without him.
South Carolina was pretty lucky in close games last year as they went 4-0 in games decided by 6 points or less (Vandy by 3, ECU by 5, Umass by 6 and Tennessee by 3). The Cocks were outgained in 8 of their games with a Net Turnover ratio of +7.
The first 3 games of the season should set the tone for South Carolina as I could realistically see 3-0 or 0-3. Their third game of the season against Kentucky could determine which of those two teams has a chance to be a sleeper in the Division.
South Carolina returns a lot of production from last year, but they are still very young at the skill positions.
Skai Moore (LB) - The impact of Skai Moore's return from injury after missing all of 2016 can not be underestimated. He led South Carolina in tackles the 3 seasons prior to the injury that caused him to miss all of last season. LB will be a core strength for the Cocks assuming Moore, Allen-Williams and Brunson all stay healthy because the depth is questionable.
Alan Knott (C) - Yes, SC is returning 4/5 on the OL, but they were absolutely horrendous (albeit young) last year. How much will that experience translate into improved play on the field? That remains to be seen, but it starts with the leader of that unit, returning starter senior center Alan Knott.
Gamecocks are 8-3 ATS in their last 11 games as a home underdog
It all goes right if…
South Carolina sees significant improvement in the trenches on both sides of the ball. Co-Offensive Coordinators Roper and McClendon must get this group of returning offensive linemen to protect Jake Bentley as they gave up the most sacks in the SEC in 2016. Additionally, the defensive line was one of the worst units in the country at getting to the opposing QB.
It all goes wrong if…
South Carolina can't find a way to win the close games again this year especially considering that I expect them to play in barn burners almost every week as previously mentioned. The question marks across the board with their special teams could end up preventing this team from getting back to a Bowl, which many in Columbia would view as a setback after the Cocks exceeded expectations in 2016.
- North Carolina State -5 Week 1
Need more SEC coverage? Check out our full SEC Conference Preview.