One of the weirdest results of the 2019 football season was South Carolina’s overtime victory against the Georgia Bulldogs. Had that not happened, the Bulldogs may have been at least considered for a College Football Playoff berth as a 1-loss SEC runner-up. South Carolina went on to finish 4-8, and their only other wins were over Kentucky, Vanderbilt, and Charleston Southern, all at their home stadium. The talent was there – at least that one day – but the results were not. However, could the Gamecocks see some improvement in 2020. Let’s see what they are looking like ahead of this year.
Top Returners: Ryan Hilinski, Israel Mukuamu
Hilinski returns under center for the Gamecocks, which is a needed dose of stability for an offense that lost their top two rushers and top receiver. Hilinksi’s numbers last season were solid (11 TD to 5 INT). His experience will be needed as South Carolina, with a modified and limited preseason, is forced to adapt on the fly.
The defense should be the strength of this South Carolina team, and it’s a unit I truly think could be one far better than many expect if they play to their potential. Mukuamu is a huge piece of that defense, coming off a 4-interception season, and he will lead the Gamecocks’ secondary into battle once more this year.
Biggest Concerns: The Run Game
South Carolina’s top two rushers are gone, leaving them with an unclear situation in the backfield and no experienced starter. The Gamecocks also lost their top receiver, but they had some better depth at the position, and they definitely will need to generate some yards on the ground to open up lanes for Hilsinki to go to work through the air.
X-Factors: Mon Denson
As per usual, the X-Factor belongs to the man who can address the biggest concern. Denson was South Carolina’s third-leading rusher in 2019. He gained just 232 yards on the ground, but he did do it efficiently, averaging 5.9 yards per pop. With more opportunities as the feature back in Will Muschamp’s backfield, Denson could improve his numbers greatly. His efforts out of the backfield could make or break this Carolina offense.
SEC Record Prediction: 4-4
A one-game improvement on last year’s record seems fair for a Year 2 starter at quarterback and some tough losses at the other skill positions. I think the defense is good enough to keep them in many games, but, ultimately, navigating a conference schedule that includes visits to Florida and LSU, as well as home dates against Texas A&M and Georgia, will prove exceptionally difficult.