Will Muschamp believes South Carolina Gamecocks can be immediate winners

Will Muschamp believes South Carolina Gamecocks can be immediate winners

June 16th, 2016 by David Paschall in Sports - College

South Carolina first-year football coach Will Muschamp believes the Gamecocks can compete for the SEC East title this season despite last year's 3-9 collapse.

Photo by Sean Rayford

SEC STREAKS

The longest winning and losing streaks among Southeastern Conference football teams entering the 2016 season:

WINS

Alabama 12

Tennessee 6

Georgia 5

Ole Miss 3

Arkansas 2

LSU 2

LOSSES

South Carolina 5

Florida 3

Missouri 2

Texas A&M 2

Vanderbilt 2

 

If any Southeastern Conference football coach has reason to employ a rebuilding theme this fall, it's South Carolina's Will Muschamp.

The first-year Gamecocks coach and former Florida Gators boss has inherited a program that went 3-9 last season and lost its last five games, including a 23-22 embarrassment against The Citadel. The Gamecocks currently are unsettled at quarterback, running back and receiver, and they unexpectedly lost their best player following spring practice.

South Carolina is the textbook definition of an SEC roster under construction, but Muschamp doesn't see it that way.

"I don't look at long-term goals," Muschamp told a Gamecock Club gathering in April. "I am looking at this 2016 football season and trying to win the East and get to Atlanta. That is going to be our goal every single year that I am here, because that is realistic.

"That is where we ought to be. We ought to be competing to win the East."

South Carolina certainly competed in the East from 2010 to '13 under former coach Steve Spurrier, winning its lone division title in '10 and then compiling three straight 11-2 seasons. The Gamecocks slipped to 7-6 in 2014 and were 2-4 last season when Spurrier abruptly resigned and handed the reins to offensive line coach Shawn Elliott, who was retained by Muschamp.

Spurrier's success in Columbia was strengthened by his ability to land elite in-state talent, which included receiver Alshon Jeffery and cornerback Stephon Gilmore in 2009, running back Marcus Lattimore in '10 and defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, the nation's No. 1 recruit, in 2011. He added Atlanta-area quarterback Connor Shaw, a heady son of a high school coach, to the mix and produced the most successful stretch in program history by far.

Last year reflected a drastic depletion in talent, but Muschamp isn't backing down from his April comments.

"I think we do have some talent and ability at the skill positions," he said last month, "and I think if we can continue to develop and improve, we could put ourselves in that position. I am pleased with our offensive line and feel like we've got eight or nine guys that we can win with in our league, and I feel good about the combination of talent and experience that is up front defensively."

South Carolina will have one of the league's most intriguing quarterback competitions in August. Perry Orth is the senior veteran and perhaps the safest choice, but early enrollee Brandon McIlwain is the fan favorite after completing 19 of 26 passes for 169 yards and two touchdowns in the spring game.

Then there is Jake Bentley, the son of running backs coach Bobby Bentley who once was a member of the 2017 signing class but was able to complete his required course work early at Opelika (Ala.) High School and has enrolled this summer. Before reclassifying, Bentley was rated by ESPN as the No. 2 pro-style quarterback in the '17 class.

Muschamp believes either David Williams or A.J. Turner can become a featured back in the SEC, and he is optimistic that a receiving corps with just six combined starts can be productive as well.

The biggest plus for South Carolina was expected to be All-SEC linebacker Skai Moore, but the senior underwent surgery earlier this month for a herniated disc in his neck and will redshirt this season before returning in '17. Moore has 260 career tackles and could become the 12th player in NCAA history to lead his team in tackles all four seasons.

Judging by last year's finish and this year's concerns, South Carolina appears well behind the East's expected front-running trio of Florida, Georgia and Tennessee.

Just don't expect Muschamp to buy into that way of thinking.

"If I didn't believe that, then I wouldn't say it," Muschamp said. "There are a lot of ifs involved in this, but I do believe it and I've talked to our players about it both individually and collectively as a team. Again, there are a lot of ifs out there, and we need to find a way to get it done.

"We've got a bunch of unknowns, but everybody has them at this point. We've got to have those things answered throughout the summer and in fall camp."

Georgia lands Demery

Kirby Smart continues to have success in his first full recruiting cycle as Georgia's coach, collecting a commitment Wednesday afternoon from D'Antne Demery. The 6-foot-6, 319-pounder from Brunswick, Ga., is rated the No. 16 offensive tackle prospect in the 2017 signing class by 247Sports.com and the No. 101 overall recruit.

Demery is the 10th in-state commitment among Georgia's 11 commitments, which are ranked fourth by 247Sports.com behind Ohio State, Alabama and Oklahoma. Michigan rounds out the top five.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.


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