COLUMBIA — Seems like it was just yesterday that Shane Beamer was holding a live rooster in the air, picking mayonnaise out of his ears and exclaiming, “What a day!” after South Carolina routed North Carolina, 38-21, in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl. That’s what a surprising 7-6 year in his debut as a head coach and a second straight joyful offseason brings.
For the first time in a while, Gamecock Nation approaches football season with optimism and stars in its eyes, other than fearfully tiptoeing to August knowing the floor is about to disappear. The first big piece begins on March 15 when USC holds its first spring practice.
Five things to watch as USC prepares for Year 2 of the Beamer Era:
The Chosen One
Spencer Rattler was walking on rose petals and hearing klaxons blare whenever he appeared in public nearly as soon as he shocked the planet by transferring to USC from Oklahoma. While of course he and Beamer will toe the company line of “no position is given, everybody competes for their playing time,” Rattler will be the Gamecocks’ starting quarterback this year.
All eyes will be on him to see if he regains the form he had as a Heisman Trophy favorite going into last season, and also how his backups play. Will Luke Doty be fully recovered from his foot issues and take snaps, or will he try wide receiver again as he did two years ago? What does Colten Gauthier do after a year in the program? How about freshmen Braden Davis and Tanner Bailey?
The Gamecocks lost running backs Kevin Harris and ZaQuandre White to the NFL Draft, but still have MarShawn Lloyd, Juju McDowell and Christian Beal-Smith, who transferred from Wake Forest. Beal-Smith could be the workhorse back this year, as McDowell is more of a shifty change-of-pace guy that can play all over.
As for Lloyd, it’s not that he wasn’t productive when he played last year, it was wondering if he’ll ever be the same running back he was before his knee injury in 2020. Spring could point the way toward a definitive answer. And don’t overlook Lovasea Carroll, who committed to Georgia to play running back but was moved to defensive back for a national championship season.
Man in the middle
Linebacker Brad Johnson is returning after a very strong season, but he’ll need somebody beside him after Damani Staley graduated. Sherrod Greene can easily step into that role as he’s been around and knows what he’s doing, but injuries have mostly shelved him the past two years. Mo Kaba can also be a stand-in for that spot. This might be a case, due to wanting to keep Greene healthy, that a spring performance may be heavily discounted as USC needs to have Greene ready in the fall.
Parker White was there for five years, booting field goals and PATs until he finally became USC’s career leading scorer. He’s gone now, training for his NFL shot while his name will eventually replace Elliott Fry’s on a ramp at Williams-Brice Stadium.
Who’s the next man up? Mitch Jeter, the kickoff specialist last year, is on scholarship so he would seem to be the guy. Yet USC did bring in two walk-ons, Daniel Lester, a highly ranked prep prospect from Florida, and Jack Luckhurst, a transfer from Arizona State.
Jaylin Dickerson has medically retired from football, a harsh blow for a player who was pretty solid while he was on the field but never could keep injuries away. He’ll be a student assistant coach this year. That knocked USC’s number of scholarship players down to 96 as his ride doesn’t count against the limit, but the Gamecocks still have 11 more to go to get down the NCAA-mandated number of 85.
They have until August to do so but charting third- and fourth-stringers this spring may give a clue to who may not be around for fall camp.