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Tennessee 2018 Opponent Preview: The South Carolina Gamecocks

NCAA Football: South Carolina at North Carolina State Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

The South Carolina Gamecocks football team may not get the attention SEC powers Georgia, Alabama and Florida garner most years but they could be a squad to watch in 2018.

The Gamecocks under Will Muschamp went 9-4 last year and had a comeback bowl win over Michigan. A stout defense returns six starters while the offense has three year quarterback starter Jake Bentley back and premier receiver/kick returner Deebo Samuel.

The defense may set the tone this year with solid linebacker and line play returning. USC led the SEC with 28 takeaways last year.

Leading tackler Skai Moore returns at linebacker along with middle backer T.J. Brunson. Brunson’s tenacity sets the tone. Leading sacker D.J. Wonnum, (six last year), returns with tackles Javon Kinlaw and Keir Thomas that should make the defense formidable up the middle.

Samuel will set the pace on offense. He scored last year as a rusher, receiver and kick returner (two kick-off returns for touchdowns) and three games of five catches for 250 yards. A broken leg against Kentucky ended his 2017 season. If he returns to form, he could easily lead the SEC in all-purpose offensive yards. Bryan Edwards returns as last season’s leading receiver with OrTre Smith and Shi Smith coming off of strong freshman outings.

Leading rusher A.J. Turner returns along with left tackle Dennis Daley, and Zack Bailey at guard or tackle. Bentley needs to limit the interceptions (12 last year), to keep the chains moving.

The Muschamp offense is very conservative and struggled last year on third down. An improved rushing game could help take the opposition defensive focus off of Samuel. The offense managed 17 points or fewer in six of the last 11 games in 2017.

USC opens with Coastal Carolina before a true SEC test against Georgia at home. They host Tennessee on October 27th in Columbia. The Gamecocks finish the regular slate with in-state power Clemson.