Last season: 3-9 (1-7 SEC)
Opener: Sept. 1 at Vanderbilt (8 p.m. on ESPN)
Fun fact: South Carolina is 8-12 all-time in bowl games but is 8-4 since joining the SEC before the 1992 season.
COMING THURSDAY: Texas A&M
South Carolina redshirt sophomore receiver Tyshun Samuel has gone by "Deebo" for as long as he can remember.
The nickname comes from the neighborhood bully played by actor Tiny Lister in "Friday." The movie came out in 1995, a year before Samuel was born.
"My daddy said that when I was little, I used to like to take things," Samuel said earlier this month at SEC media days.
If last year's performance against Clemson was any indication, the 6-foot, 205-pounder from Inman, S.C, is on the verge of grabbing a lot of passes for the Gamecocks, who are hoping to bounce back from a 3-9 disaster. Last season began with Steve Spurrier as head coach and ended with offensive line coach Shawn Elliott as the interim mentor, and now the program is under the guidance of Will Muschamp, who is heading his second league program after guiding Florida to a 28-21 mark from 2011 to 2014.
Samuel began last season as a starter against North Carolina in Charlotte but suffered a hamstring injury. He tried to play through it during losses to Kentucky and Georgia but then sat out seven weeks.
Though he played barely a month's worth of games a year ago, Samuel was impressive in his finale with five receptions for 104 yards in a 37-32 loss to Dabo Swinney's top-ranked Tigers.
"Last year I only played five games, so it was kind of a struggle to keep myself going to get back out there on the field," he said. "In the Clemson game, I really showed what I was capable of doing. I wish we could have just kept playing after that. I felt like we were a better team after that."
The Gamecocks return just four starters from an offense that ranked 11th last season in the SEC in yards per game (362.2) and 12th in points per contest (21.9). Senior Perry Orth and redshirt freshman Brandon McIlwain are expected to vie next month for the starting quarterback job, with McIlwain winning the crowd at April's spring game with a 19-of-26 passing performance for 169 yards and two touchdowns.
Jake Bentley, one of the top-rated quarterbacks for the 2017 class who reclassified and joined the program this summer, will get an opportunity but obviously is behind in Kurt Roper's offense, having not gone through spring practice.
Pharoh Cooper was South Carolina's top receiving threat last season, collecting 66 receptions for 973 yards and eight touchdowns. Samuel said he learned a lot from Cooper but does not feel the pressure to replace him as the team's most dynamic player.
Muschamp knows Samuel has a chance to assume that role even after a year in which Samuel had just 12 catches for 161 yards and a score.
"He's a guy I was really impressed with during the offseason program, just watching the way he worked," Muschamp said. "When he was healthy last year, he was very productive for us, so he's a guy we definitely need to keep healthy. For us to be successful offensively, he needs to play well, and we need more guys around him in his position group to play well."
Samuel was expecting to play his entire career for Spurrier, but he has welcomed the energy Muschamp brings. His new position coach is Bryan McClendon, who was receivers coach at Georgia last year and was interim coach for the Bulldogs when they won the TaxSlayer Bowl over Penn State.
"Coach B-Mac wants you to get as tired as you can be, because he wants to see how well you can play when you're very, very tired," Samuel said. "He's a very active coach, and when he tells you to do something, he can show you how to do it."
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.