South Carolina football: 5 New Year's Resolutions the Gamecocks need to make and keep
As the dust settles on the transfers and coaching shakeup at South Carolina, the Gamecocks are moving forward and trying to put the 4-8 campaign from 2019 squarely in the rearview mirror.
Of course, the offense was the biggest problem this past season, but one of the biggest strengths, the defensive line, will see key departures.
Much was made about the difficult schedule in 2019, but 2020 isn’t much easier. South Carolina exchanges Alabama for LSU in a game at Tiger Stadium. Meanwhile, Coastal Carolina, East Carolina and Wofford are the other nonconference games outside of Clemson.
How can 2020 be better? Here are 5 resolutions the Gamecocks need to make and keep.
1. A 5th OC under Will Muschamp will be a marked improvement
Mike Bobo brings has experience as a play-caller, most recently at Colorado State, but perhaps most notably at Georgia. He made plenty of comments about being freed up from head coaching duties, and now he has a quarterback with a full season of experience.
The Gamecocks lost a lot of experience at running back, but their best recruit was RB MarShawn Lloyd. WR Bryan Edwards is a huge loss, but there are more than enough weapons for Bobo to work with in 2020. Many of these veteran players were youngsters two years ago when the offense was more productive, something Muschamp liked to point out as questions about Bryan McClendon ramped up down the stretch.
Bobo’s performance will go a long way toward deciding Muschamp’s future. It’s difficult to see the fan base and pressure around Muschamp withstanding another offensive malaise like we saw in 2019.
2. Ryan Hilinski’s development
This is perhaps the undercard, or backburner story, of the Bobo situation. If Hilinski doesn’t show noticeable improvement, perhaps on a higher level than Jake Bentley’s best stretch, then Bobo and Muschamp are in trouble. Bentley has shown the potential, now he has to show the next step.
The early schedule gives plenty of opportunities for a solid start. Before a bye week, South Carolina faces Coastal Carolina, East Carolina, Missouri, at Kentucky, at Florida and Tennessee, which could easily translate to at least 4 wins.
His best games last season came against Charleston Southern, Alabama and Georgia, before he left with a knee injury.
Accuracy and running ability are two areas that would go a long way toward putting the offense in position to carry the team.
3. 1,000-yard rusher
Another season went by the wayside in 2019 without a true feature back. Now there’s the promise that Lloyd could deliver something the program hasn’t had since Mike Davis in 2013 — a 1,000-yard rusher. Tavien Feaster brought the possibility, but he finished with just 672 yards in 10 games.
As has been the case in recent years, the Gamecocks have plenty of capable rushers, from Kevin Harris to Deshaun Fenwick, but will a Bobo-led offense deliver that production? Bobo had one in 2017 at Colorado State in Dalyn Dawkins, and of course the steady stable of top-shelf backs at Georgia.
As much as the Hilinski development will be watched, a dependable running game may be just the elixir needed to get the program turned around toward being an SEC contender again.
4. Defensive line production
If Jordan Burch signs, that would mean 2 5-star recruits on the defensive line, next to Zacch Pickens. To keep up the production set by the likes of Javon Kinlaw and D.J. Wonnum, who combined for 10.5 sacks in 2019, Burch and Pickens, and others, will need to make a splash.
Burch and Pickens are the latest in what is becoming a long list of great defensive linemen in the program. The nationwide reputation of the SEC having defensive linemen that set the league apart is a great way to launch the program back into the mix of the top tier of the conference.
5. Another signature win
Before the Georgia upset in 2019, South Carolina’s only notable win under Muschamp was against Tennessee early in Bentley’s career.
There are plenty of opportunities again, starting with Florida in Gainesville, then there’s Texas A&M, Georgia, at LSU and at Clemson. But unless the Gamecocks get off to a hot and undefeated start, Muschamp will likely need another big win to keep the critics in check.
Muschamp can’t simply continue — without unwavering pressure — with wins only against the bottom tier of the league.