South Carolina football: 10 bold predictions for 2019 season
Will Muschamp is set to start Season 4 at South Carolina, and he believes this is his best team.
The Gamecocks haven’t consistently made waves in the SEC East even though they’re intermittently mentioned as a dark horse contender. The program is much improved from the 3-win team he inherited following 2015. The roster also has more competitive depth and plenty of veteran leadership, perhaps more than it’s had in several years.
But can they turn a corner to be a serious contender in the SEC East?
Here are 10 bold predictions for the 2019 season:
1. An upset will come against the Big 3
The difficult schedule has been discussed and discussed, most notably facing Alabama, Georgia and Clemson. Conventional wisdom has the Gamecocks falling by a wide margin to all 3. This program has been besieged by losing streaks, but the 5-game losing streak in SEC home openers is one that’s ripe to end. As is the 5-game skid in the Palmetto State rivalry, and the 4-game streak against Georgia. Don’t forget that lower-ranked South Carolina teams have beaten Georgia 3 times since 2010. These streaks won’t continue into perpetuity. The end is near — for one of them, anyway.
2. Dakereon Joyner makes a position change, and makes a splash
The now 3rd-string quarterback has been thought to make a splash with the offense since he arrived more than a year ago. He was thought to get a cameo appearance at multiple points last season, and especially in the bowl game as he ramped up practice time. Now that he’s behind backup QB Ryan Hilinski, a position change makes sense, however, barring injuries, the Gamecocks are well-stocked at wide receiver. With Kiel Pollard’s injury retirement, the Gamecocks are somewhat thin at tight end, but Joyner’s 6-1, 205-pound frame might not be big enough.
3. Tavien Feaster rushes for 1,000 yards
The Clemson transfer ends a 1,000-yard rushing drought for the Gamecocks and adds heartburn to that team in the Upstate as he clinches the milestone against the visiting Tigers on Nov. 30. Feaster is seen by some as the kind of player to put the Gamecocks over the top as they’ve searched for several years to find a dependable feature back who avoids the injury bug.
4. Bryan Edwards rewrites the record book
WR Bryan Edwards is set to be in rare company, and even ahead of such Gamecocks greats as Alshon Jeffery, Sidney Rice, Sterling Sharpe and former teammate Deebo Samuel. His 37 starts in 38 contests have set him up to break a host of school records. In receiving yards, he’s 813 behind the career record of 3,042 held by Jeffery. He’s 7 receiving TDs short of the career mark of 23 held by Rice and Jeffery, and 44 catches shy of the record of 207 held by Kenny McKinley. For context, his average season the past 3 years has been 54 catches, 743 yards and 5 TDs.
5. The defensive front will product a double-digit sack artist
D.J. Wonnum and Javon Kinlaw are the best candidates, though the defensive line as a whole is upgraded with the addition of Zacch Pickens. Both battled injuries last season as Kinlaw had 4.5 sacks. But Wonnum had 6 just 2 years ago. Consider the 3 returning starters on the line, and 5 among the top 7, and a player reaching 10 sacks in reasonable.
6. Muschamp ends streak against Top 25 teams
Will Muschamp has lost 10 consecutive games against ranked teams. Even if it doesn’t come against Alabama, Georgia or Clemson, the next tier of opponents in Missouri, Florida and Texas A&M are winnable games. Missouri likely will be ranked by Sept. 21, and South Carolina is 5-2 against the Tigers since they joined the SEC. The Florida game got away last year, and being at home should put the Gamecocks over the top.
7. A.J. Turner will be a Swiss Army knife
Turner already spent time on defense in the spring, and he has been a solid special teams performer along with his contributions as a running back. But now that Tavien Feaster has arrived, Turner, who led the team in rushing in 2017, is free to move around the field. With the history of the South Carolina defensive backfield, Turner will have plenty of chances to make a splash at nickel back and cornerback during.
8. Jaycee Horn and Israel Mukuamu will give thought to a new DBU
The brash young cornerbacks have the walk to back up the talk. It’s the kind of attitude and skill usually connected to Florida or LSU. They’ve already earned the respect of teammates because they appear to be a different breed. But once they do it in a conference game, it could mark a turning point for the program.
9. Ernest Jones will lead the team in tackles
Jones was named the Most Improved Player of the spring for special teams but has already made waves in the preseason enough to have coaches consider moving T.J. Brunson to the weakside. Jones played in 5 games a year ago and made 16 tackles, including 5 against Clemson. Originally an early enrollee, Jones might be a late bloomer since he missed spring 2018 because of a fracture in his back.
10. Nick Muse will solve the tight end question
The Gamecocks have struggled to find a productive tight end for more than a year, and now that Kiel Pollard has medically retired, the options are slim. Enter Nick Muse, a William & Mary transfer, who is not cleared to play by the NCAA. But he has practiced and received plenty of compliments, including being called an “alpha male.” His 6-3, 232-pound frame is the kind of size the Gamecocks need in the SEC.