South Carolina’s 2015 campaign featured many twists and turns, resulting in a season that was a far cry from the success they had experienced in the last decade.
The season began with its best win, a 17-13 neutral site victory over border rival North Carolina. However, the Gamecocks went 2-9 to close the year with their only other wins coming against lowly UCF and Vanderbilt.
The 2015 Gamecocks had to deal with the mid-season retirement of legendary coach Steve Spurrier as well as a crushing 23-22 home loss to the Citadel.
Despite their poor record and losses to bad teams, South Carolina was competitive in most of their games and nearly pulled the upset of archrival and eventual national runner-up Clemson.
The strengths for this football team are few and far between, but there is promise in a few areas.
The value of Will Muschamp as a defensive mind is immense — despite his spotty track record as the head coach of the Florida Gators. South Carolina has struggled on defense for the past few seasons, and that should change under Muschamp.
Freshman quarterback Brandon McIlwain could be a huge factor in how far South Carolina can go this season. He appears to be the future signal caller for the Gamecocks and his skill set looks like a perfect fit for the up-tempo scheme favored by new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper.
This South Carolina team will face plenty of challenges and has significant weaknesses that it needs to overcome.
The Gamecocks lost their best playmaker from a year ago, Pharoh Cooper, a dynamic piece which made an impact in nearly every aspect of the game. Cooper was their leading receiver, one of the best kick returners in the country and even had the ability to line up in the backfield as a ball carrier. Replacing him is going to be nearly impossible.
South Carolina’s leading returning receiver, sophomore Deebo Samuel, only had 12 catches last season. Finding a receiver in an unproven group of wideouts has to be the top priority for the new regime.
Finally, the Gamecocks’ defense has to improve, and the job didn’t get any easier when Skai Moore went down with season-ending neck surgery. Moore was their most talented defensive player and Muschamp’s new squad does not feature anyone capable of replacing him.
Players to Watch:
QB Brandon McIlwain, Fr.- McIlwain finished as the last quarterback standing in Columbia this spring, literally. Incumbent starters Lorenzo Nunez and Perry Orth spent spring practice recovering from injuries. McIlwain has high upside, but he is going to have to learn on the fly playing in the SEC. South Carolina’s offense will take advantage of his athleticism, but he needs to show improvement as a passer. It’s important that the team and fans stick by him in the “freshman” moments so he can properly learn how to develop in the nation’s premier conference.
RB David Williams, RS Jr.- Williams carried the ball only 83 times last season, but he should be the main workhorse in 2016. He has the size of a feature back, but has not yet shown the breakaway big-play speed that would complement the size and power he possesses. The junior will also need his offensive line to open up holes, especially considering the stout defenses that the Gamecocks will face in 2016.
LB T.J. Holloman, RS Sr.- Skai Moore’s absence leaves a gaping hole at middle linebacker for South Carolina, and someone has to step up to try to replace him. Moore’s senior back-up, T.J. Holloman, is much larger, but he also is not nearly as athletic as Moore. If Holloman starts in the middle for South Carolina, the Gamecocks have to be aware that teams may attack the less-athletic replacement.
Games to Watch:
Sept. 1 @ Vanderbilt- With wins at a premium for both teams, this season opener has higher stakes than most. This game should be highly competitive and will provide a sense of what kind of season both teams will have. Vanderbilt should have one of the best defenses in the conference, so stealing a win will not be easy for a team with offensive question marks like South Carolina.
Nov. 26 @ Clemson- As last year’s edition of this rivalry proved, nothing is a given when two teams that hate each other go head-to-head. There is plenty of bad blood between these two teams and South Carolina would love nothing more than to spoil Clemson’s season. Clemson may very well be undefeated (or at least in the College Football Playoff conversation) going into the final week of the regular season. The Gamecocks may not be bowl eligible, so they could treat this as their bowl game.
Losses: @ Vandy, @ Miss. St., @ Kentucky, vs Texas A&M, vs Tennessee, vs Mizzou, @ Florida, @Clemson
Edited by Jordan Dajani
Featured image by Jason A G