COLUMBIA — College football season is finally here.
South Carolina begins its fourth season under Will Muschamp with its first preseason practice on Friday. Muschamp and his players will preview the start of camp Thursday, which begins a month of practice before the Gamecocks head to Charlotte for an Aug. 31 matchup with North Carolina.
It was a gloomy and question-filled offseason following a 7-6 campaign, which ended with a listless 28-0 drubbing from Virginia in the Belk Bowl. Muschamp starts addressing the concerns Friday.
The most pertinent:
1. The Two Jakes
Quarterback Jake Bentley is really good in practice and does more than required off the field. Yet it’s tough for him to translate that into first quarters of games, when he’s made the great majority of his mistakes. Is there a solution that can be found over the next month?
2. Who’s the backup QB?
Muschamp said he'd like to have his No. 2 quarterback decided after the team's second scrimmage (practice No. 14). Dakereon Joyner and Ryan Hilinski bring different styles to the position, but only one will go in if Bentley isn’t available. Never discount the need for a solid backup — remember Michael Scarnecchia vs. Missouri last year?
Jay Urich wasn't going to play as a quarterback. He and Will Muschamp thought it was foolish to waste his talents.
3. Who’s the playmaker?
No more Deebo Samuel to bail out bad throws, convert third downs or take a kickoff to the house. In an offense that cherishes “explosive plays,” who takes that role?
4. The third man
USC also needs a slot receiver to put in Samuel’s place, and personnel-wise, it’s easy. Shi Smith will move over. But who takes Smith’s place on the outside, complementing Bryan Edwards on the other side? Is OrTre Smith recovered from his knee injury? Josh Vann? One of the freshmen?
5. Lacking linebackers
The Gamecocks’ linebackers weren’t very good last year. Some of that was the lack of healthy bodies on the defensive line but some was simply poor tackling. Can senior T.J. Brunson, who still led the team in stops, be the man he’s so often compared to — the departed Skai Moore?
6. The back end
The Gamecocks are already down one defensive back after Jaylin Dickerson’s hip surgery. A revolving door last year could be even more so this year. The secondary is young and talented, but frightfully thin; how does USC handle that?
Especially in the secondary, the freshmen will have to play. Shilo Sanders, Cam Smith, Jammie Robinson and John Dixon will see the field but who else joins them? Defensive lineman Zacch Pickens? Offensive lineman Vinnie Murphy?