The Ol’ Ball Coach is out; Coach Boom is in at South Carolina. After eleven years of expert visor-flinging, Steve Spurrier will no longer grimace up and down the sidelines. Instead, the SEC will see a familiar foe, as Will Muschamp gets a shot at redemption through guiding the Gamecocks into their 2016 campaign.
The new coach inherits a 3-9 squad (1-7 in the SEC) that struggled in virtually every facet of football except for earning the fewest penalty yards per game (39 yards, 11th nationally), a stat sure to nosedive given Muschamp’s legendary antics. Examine this moment from Auburn's 2015 Alabama game, where it took an entire Secret Service detail of Boom-whisperers to get his pulse down to a resting 250. If teams do truly take on the personality of their coaches, then we can expect personal foul flags to rain down upon the Gamecocks like an apocalyptic meteor shower.
Projecting South Carolina is tricky, though, as even the RTT staff has picked them to finish as high as third and as low as the bottom of the SEC East with the average pick being fifth in the division just slightly ahead of Mizzou. On the offensive side of the ball – a subject Muschamp enjoys about as much as Eastern meditation – Kurt Roper is charged with making lemonade out of last year’s 110th ranked unit in points per game. Depending upon how the quarterback competition shakes out, South Carolina will return as few as two starters, both offensive linemen, while also having no proven play makers. True freshman Brandon McIlwain may have wrested the quarterback position away from Perry Orth. McIlwain, the nation’s second rated dual-threat quarterback, amassed more than 10,000 yards and 124 touchdowns during his prep career, and impressed the Gamecock faithful, to say nothing of the head coach, with his spring game performance.
However, surviving the SEC schedule as a true freshman is a tall order, particularly with the dearth of proven players at the skill positions. The leading returning rusher for South Carolina, Lorenzo Nunez, did so from the quarterback spot and has since moved to wide receiver to shore up the decimated position. David Williams (6’1, 216, JR), a former four star recruit, looks to be the man in the backfield with another newcomer, redshirt freshman A.J. Turner (5’10, 186), as his primary backup. Gone is Pharoh Cooper and is preternatural ability to get behind Tennessee defensive backs. Starting tight end Jerell Adams graduated, and part-time starter D.J. Neal decided to transfer. The most likely candidates to fill that lost production are Deebo Samuels (6’0, 205, So.) and true freshman four star Bryan Edwards (6’3, 200). When you factor in three new offensive linemen, Roper and crew could be spending a lot of the season saying "my bad" to the defense as they cross paths while trudging back to the sidelines.
Muschamp has built his reputation as an architect of defenses, and he will be called upon to gentrify a fairly run-down squad. Literally, run-down: Last year, the Gamecock defense allowed over 217 rushing yards a game (109th ranked nationally) and 430 total yards overall (94th). Second-team All-SEC linebacker Skai Moore is out for the year with an injury after he led the team in tackles for his third straight year (111) while adding four interceptions. Muschamp will look to bring pressure this year meaning expectations will be high for returning senior defensive end Marquavius Lewis and a host of first-time starters. A quick look through the two-deep shows a number of upper-classmen who have never started, meaning playing time could be available to the 2016 recruiting class ranked 8th in the SEC and 24th nationally (according to 247sports).
While Vols fans might want to fret about Butch Jones’ 0-2 record against Muschamp’s Florida teams, Jones owns a 3-0 record versus South Carolina (albeit with an average margin of victory under 3 points); an 18-4 record versus unranked opponents at UT; and this year’s game falls after the Vols’ bye week. South Carolina should be rested, too, after a contest with UMass, a school that remains an FBS independent either as a lasting ode to Paul Revere or because no conference wishes to be stained by welcoming Minutemen football into their ranks.
By this point in the season, the Gamecocks could be hitting their stride within their new systems, or the toll of the SEC schedule could be demoralizing for a number of young players.
On the other hand, this contest should propel the Vols through a five-game stretch that leads to Atlanta.