South Carolina looks like a team on the upswing after coming off a nine-win season and returning a loaded offense. Head Coach Will Muschamp has improved in the win column in each season he has been on the sidelines. He emphasized to his team back in January to embrace the “All gas no brakes” motto, which means being 100 percent in everything you do moving forward and giving all you got. The offense returns eight starters led by veteran junior quarterback Jake Bentley. After averaging only 24 points per game on offense last season, Muschamp implemented a more up-tempo scheme during the spring in hopes of completing more plays and giving the players more opportunities to put points on the board.
Team strengths: The defensive front seven. Five starters return on defense, including four in the front seven for South Carolina. The Gamecocks finished 25th nationally in points allowed per game and led the SEC with 28 takeaways last season. Starting defensive linemen D.J. Wonnum, Javon Kinlaw and Keir Thomas combined for 115 tackles, including 19.5 from behind the line of scrimmage and eight sacks last season.
Team weaknesses: Offensive running game. The Gamecocks finished 109th nationally in rush yards per game in 2017. With the up-tempo installation, Muschamp is hoping those numbers improve drastically. Four junior running backs will share carries early on with hopes of one standing out and becoming the primary ball carrier. They will run behind an offensive line that features three starters from last season and four upperclassmen.
Players to watch: Quarterback Bentley, wide receiver Bryan Edwards and linebacker T.J. Brunson. Bentley is a two-year starter and threw for nearly 2,800 yards and 18 touchdowns, while adding six rushing scores last season. He has a few weapons at receiver so his numbers should improve this fall. Edwards led the team in catches, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns last season with 64 receptions, 793 yards and five scores. Brunson is the teams’ leading returning tackler with 88 stops, 4.5 tackles for loss and two sacks.
The schedule: Favorable. Three of the non-conference games are against cupcakes. South Carolina gets Georgia, Texas A&M and Tennessee at home, but travels to Florida and Clemson. The Gamecocks avoid Alabama, LSU and Auburn from the west.
My take: This is the season South Carolina has its best chance of dethroning Georgia for the East title. With an experienced offense, enough studs on defense and a favorable schedule, this team should improve on its nine wins from a year ago.