HOOVER, Ala. — South Carolina finished last in the SEC East in 2015. Media members are picking them to stay there again this season.
The Gamecocks were projected to finish seventh in the SEC East in a poll of 331 media members released Thursday at SEC Media Days. South Carolina received 800 points, seven fewer than Missouri, picked to finish sixth in the division, and 10 fewer than Vanderbilt, picked to finish fifth.
Tennessee was the overwhelming choice to win the East, ahead of Florida, Georgia, and Kentucky. Alabama was picked to win the SEC West, followed by LSU, Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Arkansas, Auburn and Mississippi State. The Crimson Tide was also picked to win the overall SEC title.
South Carolina is coming off a 3-9 campaign that saw former head coach Steve Spurrier resign at midseason. New head coach Will Muschamp and the Gamecocks open the season at Vanderbilt on Sept. 1.
Media have correctly forecast the SEC champion just five times in 24 years, most recently Alabama in 2014. Last season’s media pick, Auburn, finished seventh in the SEC West. USC did receive two first-place divisional votes, and one vote for overall SEC champion, in this year’s poll.
South Carolina sophomore offensive lineman Christian Pellage has been suspended indefinitely from the football program per team policy after being charged with first offense driving under the influence Saturday by Columbia police.
Pellage, 19, was fined $1,017 and has a court date Aug. 24, according to Richland County judicial records. He was released on a personal recognizance bond. The 6-6, 305-pound Brooksville, Fla., native is listed as the backup to Zack Bailey at left guard on the Gamecocks’ preseason depth chart.
Muschamp had Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott speak to the team Wednesday in the wake of recent unrest connected to police-related shootings in St. Paul, Minn., and Baton Rouge, La.
“Coach wanted to show us the proper way to respond to that, and it’s not through social media or violence or anything like that,” said senior offensive lineman Mason Zandi. “He really showed us, this is what Martin Luther King did, and this is how he went about things. Some of the guys had questions for Sheriff Lott about procedural things, getting pulled over and things like that. Just curious stuff.”
Muschamp said he also showed players video of Robert Kennedy’s famous speech in Indianapolis after King’s assassination. “This country has been through difficult times before, much more difficult than we’re having now,” Muschamp said.
“We can polarize ourselves and separate ourselves and make this become a race or an economic or a financial issue, or we can band together. That’s what we need to do. We need to come together. That’s what I really imposed on our players last night.”
Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze said he knows he’ll be held accountable for the results of an NCAA investigation into alleged ACT fraud and impermissible benefits.
“As a head coach, I understand that I’m held accountable for the things that happened within our building and even outside the walls of our building,” he said. “Our compliance team is working extremely hard to seek a resolution to this case, and also into the events from NFL draft night, and we look forward to the conclusion of this entire process. No one looks forward to that more than I do.”
Draft night is when hacked social media accounts belonging to tackle Laremy Tunsil raised questions of potential payments to players. “I have zero interest, zero interest, in cutting corners to be successful,” Freeze said Thursday, “and our staff knows that very well.”
USC linebacker Skai Moore, recovering from surgery to repair a herniated neck disc that will cause him to miss the 2016 season, can begin riding a stationary bicycle next month, Muschamp said. USC’s leading tackler in each of the past three seasons, Moore can resume weightlifting in September.
“I text with him, try to about every day, to check on him to make sure he’s in good spirits, because he’s going through a tough time,” Muschamp said. “It’s the first time in his life he’s had something really important to him taken away. And that’s very difficult for a young man to go through.”
Muschamp added he is unsure when the injury occurred. In offseason meetings, Moore complained of tingling down his right arm. “So obviously, this is a preexisting injury,” Muschamp said. USC doctors tried to remedy it with injections, but the disc began to impact Moore’s strength and ability to move around, eventually requiring the surgery.