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South Carolina Athletics photo / South Carolina receiver/quarterback Dakereon Joyner celebrates during the 38-21 victory over North Carolina in the Duke's Mayo Bowl.

One of the most anticipated players in Southeastern Conference football this year is Spencer Rattler, the former Oklahoma quarterback who transferred to South Carolina.

Of course, if Rattler gets hurt or struggles, Shane Beamer's Gamecocks certainly have a proven backup plan.

Fifth-year senior Dakereon Joyner, who has spent far more time at receiver during his time in Columbia, got the nod at quarterback last December in the Duke's Mayo Bowl and delivered, completing all nine of his pass attempts for 160 yards and rushing 10 times for 64 yards. The 6-foot-1, 210-pounder from North Charleston, South Carolina, earned bowl MVP honors as the Gamecocks rolled to a 38-21 triumph, and he is sure to give South Carolina's 2022 opponents a lot to think about.

"I think the goal is for me to play both positions evenly, because I've shown that I can play both at a high level," Joyner said last month at SEC media days in Atlanta. "My goal is to just be available for whatever I'm asked to do."

Joyner started the first 12 games of last season at receiver, where he tallied 24 catches for 221 yards and a touchdown. He also had 18 carries for 77 yards and returned a pair of kickoffs during the regular season, but perhaps the biggest testament to his overall value was being selected as a team captain in four contests — East Carolina, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Auburn.

"Dakereon is just so valuable to our program in so many ways — as a quarterback, as a wide receiver, on special teams," Beamer said. "He's so unselfish. The bowl game was a great day for him, and he showed that he could play quarterback, but he's won so many awards voted on by coaches since he's been here.

"With Dakereon, he's team-first all the way. He showed that throughout the year. He wants what's best for South Carolina football."

Joyner first showed his versatility in 2019, when top quarterbacks Jake Bentley and Ryan Hillinski were out with injuries as the Gamecocks had the challenge of facing No. 3 Georgia in Athens. While Bulldogs quarterback Jake Fromm was plagued by three interceptions, Joyner completed 6 of 12 pass attempts for 39 yards and rushed six times for 28 yards, doing just enough in his second-half role and in two overtimes to help South Carolina pull out a shocking 20-17 upset.

That was the unquestioned high mark of South Carolina's 4-8 season three years ago, and the Gamecocks went 2-8 in 2020, which resulted in the end of the Will Muschamp era and the hiring of Beamer. More miserable moments were expected last year, but the Gamecocks used late-season surprises of Florida and Auburn to secure a trip to Charlotte, where they were able to dismiss a Tar Heels team that began last season in the top-10.

The Gamecocks wound up 7-6, which included a 3-5 SEC mark.

SOUTH CAROLINA

Last season: 7-6 (3-5 SEC)

Opener: Sept. 3 vs. Georgia State in Columbia (7:30 p.m. on SEC Network+)

Fun fact: South Carolina has the Eastern Division’s longest winning streak over Vanderbilt, having won 13 consecutive meetings.

Up next: Tennessee

"We were projected to win two games," Joyner said. "Our goal right now is to be the most consistent team in the SEC. Last year was a great thing to capitalize on.

"To win seven in year one under Coach Beamer says a lot. It's scary what we can do in year two, and we're excited."

South Carolina ranked ahead of only Vanderbilt within the league last year in total yards (336.8) and scoring offense (22.6), so there is plenty of room for the Gamecocks to improve. The question is whether that will come from Rattler, Joyner or a combination of both.

"Spencer's locker is right next to mine, so we share a lot of great stories," Joyner said. "He's a great leader on and off the field, and his energy is very contagious. He's a guy you want be around, and I think everybody knows he can spin the ball really well. He's been a great asset to our team."

Said Beamer: "I'm proud of Dakereon, because he's shown that he is an outstanding quarterback. He's shown that he's an outstanding receiver. He's an outstanding special teams player. He's just an outstanding leader and person, and I'm glad he's on our team."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com.

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