Gamecocks

South Carolina must win two of its final three games to earn a bowl bid. File/Travis Bell/Sideline Carolina

COLUMBIA — Bryan Edwards spoke for everyone.

“We can play it in the backyard for all I care,” South Carolina’s senior wide receiver said. “I’m ready to play.”

Home game, away game, traveling an hour up I-77 for a border battle with North Carolina at Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium — it makes no difference.

After a month of hitting each other, hearing all about the nation’s toughest schedule and losing a few players for various reasons, the Gamecocks finally start the season Saturday.

“You go back to our first scrimmage, to be able to roll three groups out there and be very competitive,” coach Will Muschamp said. “To know that even in that third group, there’s guys that are going to help our football team this year.”

It’s Muschamp’s most talented team as he starts his fourth season at USC, but expectations are middling considering the strength of the schedule and how the Gamecocks finished last year. The coach and his players are excited to kick it off Saturday against a UNC squad that finished 2-9 and fired coach Larry Fedora.

Yet a couple of Muschamp’s comments loomed:

“First games, expect the unexpected."

“Week One’s a lot like a bowl game.”

USC’s last bowl game was an embarrassing 28-0 loss to Virginia at the same site of Saturday's game.

Preseason camp wrap

Health-wise, the Gamecocks came through the first month of practice pretty well. Offensive lineman Maxwell Iyama was medically disqualified over the summer, and safety Jaylin Dickerson had surgery before the season to repair an unusual growth on his femur.

Defensive lineman Devontae Davis (foot) went down in the first couple of days and will miss the season, while tight end Kiel Pollard found out he has a cyst on his spinal cord, which ended his playing career.

“(Keir Thomas has) an infection in the ankle right now,” Muschamp said. “We’re pumping him with antibiotics, it will probably be two weeks and I’ll let you know after that.”

Thomas was listed as a co-starter with Kobe Smith at defensive tackle. With him out for at least the first two games, expect Rick Sandidge and Zacch Pickens, USC’s first five-star recruit since Jadeveon Clowney, to get more snaps.

Receiver Randrecous Davis has had a litany of minor injuries since he enrolled and is recovering from a tweaked ankle, but should be OK for Saturday. Defensive linemen J.J. Enagbare and Brad Johnson, plus safety J.T. Ibe, should also be fine after missing a few practices.

Departures

Tight end Evan Hinson, who was going to play important minutes as a backup, especially with the loss of Pollard, is no longer on the team. He had surgery to correct an irregular heartbeat and was going to miss four to six weeks anyway, but he met with Muschamp and wants to transfer so he can play basketball.

“He felt like that was what he wanted to do moving forward, so we wish him the best,” Muschamp said.

It’s a weird turn of events after Hinson, who was on scholarship to play football at USC but had permission to play basketball, was a two-sport athlete for his USC career. He gave up basketball in mid-February to concentrate on football full-time, saying he felt that was where his professional aspirations had the best chance of succeeding.

The heart surgery seems to have changed his mind. Hinson hasn’t declared where he’s headed, but his younger brother Blake Hinson plays basketball at Ole Miss.

Long snapper Collin Bunch (was on spring roster), plus defensive back Kevin Pickens and running back Joe Thomas, are also no longer on the team. Defensive lineman Jaquaze Sorrells has not been cleared to enroll at USC and will likely redshirt if he does get in.

Additions

The Gamecocks added Tavien Feaster, Nick Muse, Connor Jordan, Zachariah Doe, Matt Oliveira, Jaylan Foster, Matthew Bailey, Max Durschlag, Gavin Bennett, James Bartholomew, Jalyn Dubose and Brantley Campbell to the roster this month.

Feaster was the most notable addition, a scholarship tailback who transferred from Clemson. He is expected to split carries with Rico Dowdle as the Gamecocks’ top option at rusher, although the duo along with senior Mon Denson are listed as co-starters on the depth chart.

“I believe we mesh pretty well,” Feaster said. “They sense that I’m here to handle business, and they approach it the same way.”

Oliveira is a graduate transfer from Maryland who will be the team’s long snapper.

Tight ends wanted

Pollard and Hinson are gone, and the Gamecocks are still waiting on word from the NCAA on Muse, who transferred from William & Mary. They applied for immediate eligibility as his preferred major wasn’t offered at his previous school, but haven’t heard if he’ll be cleared.

“I’m supposed to hear before the season starts, obviously,” Muse said. “When it comes, it will come.”

The Gamecocks are so thin they moved scholarship center Chandler Farrell to tight end. Farrell is listed as the starter at one spot if the Gamecocks go with a two tight end set, with no backup.

Rush to DB

Redshirt freshman receiver Darius Rush switched to defensive back in an effort to see some playing time. Rush was behind a deep and talented receiver corps and is hoping to challenge some of the Gamecocks’ freshmen in the secondary.

Follow David Cloninger on Twitter @DCPandC.

From Rock Hill, S.C., David Cloninger covers Gamecock sports. He will not rest until he owns every great film and song ever recorded.

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