The preseason is full of unknowns, and we really only get hints and impressions of what’s to come. These are the biggest unknowns for the Gamecocks looking ahead to 2016. Practice starts on Tuesday.
1. How’s this going to look?
We don’t know what a Will Muschamp-led team will look like. We don’t know what it will look like with a holdover roster that is hardly stocked with pieces. Does Muschamp look, act and coach the same as when he was in Florida? All offseason, an image builds around teams. Nearly every player gets spotlighted, talked about, their potential speculated about (especially on a team with few proven commodities). And then the games begin, and everything gets a whole lot clearer.
2. Who’s taking the snaps?
It’s cliché, but it’s a big question. Does Perry Orth, with his experience and the general competence that had some wondering if he should’ve started at the beginning last year, take the role of veteran opening a new era? Or can Brandon McIlwain, with his dynamic ability on the ground, prove prodigious enough to catch up? Jake Bentley has even more ground to cover jumping from the high school ranks. The field has thinned, but South Carolina starts with a run of potential swing games, and the early field general will have a lot to say on that front.
3. How tight can this defense play?
The Gamecocks spent the past two years playing defense to prevent big plays and make opponents work down the field. That can work when played well, but the Gamecocks didn’t. The new coaching staff has promised some tighter coverage and warned the team won’t go that route until the players can handle it. Throw in the fact Muschamp’s defenses have historically played hard and hit hard if nothing else, and USC could have a wide range of how well that unit steps up.
4. Who’ll make plays?
The Gamecocks have a small army of available playmakers. Freshman four-star receiver? Check. Powerfully built tailback? Check. Shifty receiver who bounced between positions? Check. Tight end who once played minor league baseball? Check. The thing is, not a one is proven. The No. 1 receiver: missed most of last year with a nagging hamstring. No. 1 runner: Struggled to produce consistently as a No. 2 option. Top tight end: Spent most of last year at wide receiver and played a different sport (baseball) before that. Someone has to catch passes and take carries, but who does it most is far from clear.
5. Can the offensive front be a strength?
Despite some veteran hands, South Carolina’s line struggled in a lot of ways last season. Nearly a fourth of the carries went for losses, and the team ranked 123rd nationally in converting short-yardage plays. The new staff came in trying to meld the old approaches on the ground with some new tactics, and there’s a good bit of turnover in personnel. But USC can’t get the offense back on track without the unit run by Shawn Elliott, the only holdover from the last staff, getting back in gear.