COLUMBIA — Nobody spoke about the schedule.
That’s good. It’s been discussed enough.
“We kind of looked around at each other and said, ‘This is it,’” mused Mon Denson, one of four senior running backs South Carolina has this year. “This is our last season, so we have to go out there and make it something great.”
Will Muschamp’s fourth Gamecocks team has exactly what he wants. There are seniors, multi-game starter seniors, at crucial positions. The stockpile of injuries along the defensive front and in the secondary last year were cruel at the time but a silver lining now, as it built depth USC hasn’t had.
Can South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley solve his first-half struggles? Will his backup be Dakereon Joyner or Ryan Hilinski?
“They’ve got really good, number-one, competitive and quality depth on their roster,” Muschamp said, mentioning the traits of championship teams he’s coached. “The second thing is leadership.”
He wasn’t saying USC is a championship team. Google “Gamecocks schedule” and read one of several dozen opinions on why not.
But those are opinions, from people not around Muschamp and his team, and while the schedule is a gantlet unseen since the last “Hunger Games” flick, it’s 12 one-game seasons. Put it this way — if the Gamecocks had to face such a slate, Muschamp would want to do it with a seasoned, experienced group of veterans.
That’s what he has. Beginning Friday, the work begins to try to make the senior seasons of Denson and several others a winner.
“We got to come together as a team right here during training camp. There will be some moving parts, whether guys change positions or doing what we got to do to be a successful football team,” Muschamp said. “Gaining the trust of your teammates, the communication, all the things you got to do to be successful.”
There are numerous questions. The offensive line returns four starters, but two of them are playing new positions and a third, redshirt freshman center Hank Manos, started his first career game in last year’s Belk Bowl. The secondary is young, talented and very thin.
Jay Urich wasn't going to play as a quarterback. He and Will Muschamp thought it was foolish to waste his talents.
Who replaces Deebo Samuel, the man who could score any time the ball was in his hands and who caught a lot of tough passes? How does phenomenally improved kicker Parker White handle adjusting to a new long snapper and new holder? Who becomes quarterback Jake Bentley’s backup — Fort Dorchester alum Dakereon Joyner or true freshman Ryan Hilinski, already fabled before he’s ever thrown a varsity pass?
Muschamp hopes to answer all before Aug. 31, when the Gamecocks are 90 miles up I-77 playing North Carolina at Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium. Or at least have a great idea of what he’s going to do to answer them.
“Looking forward to going back out there and putting pads back on,” said senior running back Rico Dowdle, who missed spring practice recovering from an injury. “It’s our last season, just trying to go out there and do whatever we can do, get our jobs done.”
Tavien Feaster represents the best chance South Carolina has had under Will Muschamp to produce a legitimate rushing offense.
Feaster en route
Clemson transfer running back Tavien Feaster is not yet enrolled at USC and will not start practice with the team Friday. He’ll be here as soon as his paperwork is filed and accepted. Freshman defensive lineman Jaquaze Sorrells is also trying to clear up academic issues so he can enroll.
Two DL banged up
Senior Keir Thomas (ankle) and sophomore J.J. Enagbare (knee) are recovering from minor injuries. They should be cleared within the first week of practice.