USC debates how to handle kickoffs

Brett Flashnick/AP South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier reacts to a penalty during the first half of an NCAA college football game against East Carolina at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia on Saturday, Sept. 8, 2012.

COLUMBIA — College football has new kickoff rules this season that are designed to limit the number of kickoff returns, which sometimes result in risky collisions like the one that paralyzed former Rutgers defensive lineman Eric LeGrand in 2010 as he was covering a kickoff.

Teams now kick off from their own 35-yard line instead of the 30, which should result in more touchbacks. But on kickoff touchbacks only, the ball now comes out to the 25, rather than the 20. So is there really an advantage to having your kicker blast the ball through the end zone?

South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier is trying to determine that, based on his team’s strong kickoff coverage in Saturday’s 48-10 win over East Carolina.

“I think now maybe it’s better to kick it high to the goal line and force the guy to bring it out, because their guy couldn’t get past the 25, I don’t think, any time,” he said.

He is right. USC’s Landon Ard kicked off eight times Saturday. Two went for touchbacks. The six returned kicks resulted in drives started at the 13, 14, 18, 18, 19 and 23. Three of those six kickoffs actually went into the end zone, but ECU decided to return them, resulting in drive starts at the 13, 14 and 23.

But will USC’s kickoff coverage unit experience similar success against teams with better returners, or will Spurrier decide it is wiser in those games to just take the touchback?

South Carolina’s home game against Missouri on Sept. 22 will kick off at 3:30 p.m. and air on CBS, the Southeastern Conference announced Monday.

Missouri (1-1) lost, 41-20, last week to Georgia at home. The Tigers host Arizona State this Saturday at 7 p.m., the same time as USC’s home game against Alabama-Birmingham.

The Tigers are one of two new SEC teams this season, along with Texas A&M. Missouri plays in the East Division, so it will face South Carolina every year. USC is 0-2 all-time against Missouri, with their meetings coming in the 1979 Hall of Fame Bowl and the 2005 Independence Bowl.

USC quarterback Dylan Thompson threw to true freshman wide receiver Shaq Roland four times on Saturday before Roland made his first career catch.

After the first four passes fell incomplete, including a deep ball in the first quarter, Roland had a 12-yard catch on the third quarter’s penultimate play. Two plays later, he made a 13-yard grab on the fourth quarter’s first play.

Roland is the fourth consecutive South Carolina Mr. Football signed by the Gamecocks. He dressed for the season opener at Vanderbilt but did not play.

“When I first went out there, I was a little nervous,” he said of his first home game, Saturday. “After I got my first catch, I relaxed and I was comfortable and everything went well. I was very excited. I knew a lot of my family was going to be out here and support me.”

USC’s men’s basketball roster was released Monday. Two of the six newcomers who committed to the Gamecocks were not on it — wing player Thaddeus Hall and point guard Tarik Phillip. New USC coach Frank Martin was waiting on their admission to school.

Since Hall and Phillip won’t be on the team, USC will play this season with 11 scholarship players, two shy of the NCAA’s allowed maximum. Point guard Bruce Ellington doesn’t count in that total because he is on a football scholarship. He won’t join the basketball team until after football season ends.

Center Carlton Geathers is out until at least mid-January with a knee injury. When USC begins the season, it will have six returning scholarship players and four newcomers: center Laimonas Chatkevicius; wing players Mindaugas Kacinas and Michael Carrera; and guard LaShay Page, a transfer from Southern Mississippi who will be a senior this season.

Former USC quarterback Allen Mitchell, who started 10 of 12 games for the “Black Magic” team that went 10-2 in 1984, died Sunday morning in what was ruled a suicide. He was 48.

He threw for 2,241 yards and 14 touchdowns from 1983-85.