COLUMBIA — It won’t be just Will Muschamp’s decisions that are scrutinized this offseason.
Now that the book has closed on a disappointing 4-8 season featuring more offensive ineptitude, more injuries and more vows that it will get better despite nobody saying exactly how, South Carolina faces a long winter until spring practice can start. There could be a bright day coming (Dec. 18 is the first day of the early signing period), but overall, the next few months promise to be a steady procession of not-great news.
There will be staff changes, which will please some outsiders. There are also expected to be transfers, which is normal for any program, winning or not.
But when coming off an awful season? Perhaps there will be more than usual.
“Frustrating day, end of a frustrating year,” coach Will Muschamp said after Saturday’s 38-3 loss to No. 3 Clemson. “There’s a lot of different areas that are at fault, and it’s going to get fixed, and that’s what I’m going to do.”
It starts with senior quarterback Jake Bentley, who broke his foot in the season-opener and missed the rest of the season. It’s difficult to imagine him returning for his final season. He needs playing time to get ready for a possible NFL career, and incumbent Ryan Hilinski is in the way at USC.
Yet he hasn’t said anything about his decision, preferring to wait until after the season.
Offensive lineman Sadarius Hutcherson and tight end Kyle Markway will dip their toes into the NFL Draft waters to see what their grades are. Junior receiver Shi Smith was declarative about his future Saturday, saying, “I’m definitely coming back.”
That leaves some of the underclassmen. What happens with Dakereon Joyner, Jay Urich, Deshaun Fenwick? What happens with Shilo Sanders, Cam Smith, Vinnie Murphy, guys who were expected to get on the field in key roles this year but didn’t?
The NCAA transfer portal makes it so easy to put yourself up for auction. Players don’t even have to tell their coach beforehand, just their compliance guru. It’s such an intriguing option to be the prettiest recruit at the dance all over again, especially with the NCAA as fuzzy as ever on who can get an immediate-eligibility waiver and who can’t.
Joyner? He lost the backup quarterback competition and admirably stuck around, but while the plan was to move him to wide receiver, he had to return to backup QB when Bentley went down.
Joyner has constantly said how much he loves USC and wants to be here, but can he ever count on multiple QB snaps in crucial moments?
For Urich, the plan was for him to move to wide receiver after the spring game. He played very few snaps at receiver, and while he got in a few plays as backup QB on Saturday, it doesn’t seem as if he will ever receive the chance to make plays when the Gamecocks need them.
Fenwick has rushed for over 100 yards in two of his seven career games. Three running backs are graduating, but will the expected arrival of ballyhooed back MarShawn Lloyd affect him?
Players leave every year. Many of them aren’t going to contribute for their current teams.
But going into a year where so much needs to be rebuilt, how many future building blocks will crumble?