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Gamecocks' Muschamp counting on players to avoid COVID risks during bye week

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Masks and COVID-19 prevention have been constant in USC's program and coach Will Muschamp is confident his players will heed the guidelines during the bye week. Travis Bell/Sideline Carolina

COLUMBIA — It was perfect timing.

The SEC's revised football schedule was released and South Carolina’s bye week was exactly at the season’s midpoint. The Gamecocks would play five games and then be off Saturday, perfect for going home to eat Mom’s cooking, maybe watch the neighborhood kids trick-or-treat.

Except for that whole pandemic thing.

“I’m not going to sit there and tell a guy he can’t go home,” USC coach Will Muschamp said. “But I am going to tell a guy that he needs to be very careful and don’t compromise himself and his teammates by making a poor decision.”

Coronavirus infection and the ensuing quarantine protocols hover over everything and the Gamecocks still have a game next week. They don’t want to fall into the pit that’s thus far forced 36 college football postponements, sent the SEC’s Florida and Vanderbilt into unplanned bye weeks and as discovered Thursday night, put Clemson star quarterback Trevor Lawrence on the bench this weekend due to a positive test. 

Normally the 62 out-of-state members of USC’s football team would have a decision to make. Try to drive or fly home only to turn around and come back? Maybe go bum a spare bed at a teammate’s house in-state just to get away from the grind a bit? Stay in the dorm room and just watch college football on Saturday, something they seldom get to do?

Now it’s relatively simple. The Gamecocks had their last practice of the week Thursday morning. Then they were turned loose until Sunday night’s practice.

Nobody is restricted from going home, even if they’re out of state. But all have been encouraged by USC’s senior leadership group to remain close, and in Columbia if possible.

“Most of our guys are going to stay in town,” Muschamp said, acknowledging that some may drive to Atlanta or Charlotte. “We talked to our team about being smart, about how you handle yourself, the situations you cannot put yourself in with exposure to the unknown, and our senior leadership group guaranteed me they were going to handle the football team as far as those things are concerned. Going to talk in terms with our guys of making sure where all of them are going to be.”

The group, made up of seniors and some select underclassmen, meet with Muschamp at least twice a week to talk about any issues going on inside the operations building. It’s the same group that approached Muschamp over the summer and fall about participating in social justice causes.

“I think if we left the state, we’d have to quarantine,” said fullback Adam Prentice, a native of Fresno, Calif. “I’m not planning to leave and I don’t think many guys are.”

“Nah. Definitely not going home,” said Deshaun Fenwick of Bradenton, Fla. "Probably try to catch up in schoolwork or get ahead, train, relax, do something. Not going home, though.”

Muschamp has constantly praised his team about its response to COVID. The Gamecocks have had very little issues with the pandemic in terms of being able to play games.

There is a slight concern that the Gamecocks' open date falls on Halloween. Halloween in a college town beckons.

But Muschamp is confident the Gamecocks will handle it the right way. 

“We got to trust these young men. They’ve been great through this process, they’ve handled themselves the right way, no reason for me to think it won’t happen going forward,” Muschamp said. “I think (the leadership group has) done a good job, from their perspective of making sure our guys are toeing the line as far as the COVID things are concerned. Making sure we don’t have any issues of guys stepping out of line and exposing themselves to the unknown. Our guys have done a really good job of policing each other as far as those things are concerned.”

N.C. State added to future schedules

USC announced that it will renew its football rivalry with N.C. State in 2030 and 2031. The Gamecocks get the home game in 2030.

The teams last met in 2017, when the Gamecocks won 35-28 in Charlotte. USC also won the two games before that, in 2008 and 2009, when the Seattle Seahawks' Russell Wilson was the Wolfpack’s quarterback.

The Gamecocks also have games against ACC teams scheduled with Miami in 2026 and '27, and Virginia Tech in 2034 and '35.

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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