Are the good times really over?
The South Carolina Gamecocks come into 2016 with a new coach, angry-man defensive guru and former gator head man, Will Muschamp. This will be the first season in a decade without Steve Spurrier at the helm, and to rub salt in the wound, he’s recently announced that he will leave Columbia entirely and take an “ambassador” position with UF. While the initial response to the Muschamp hire was less than enthusiastic, many fans have come around and are at least outwardly expressing confidence that we have the right man for the job.
Even during consecutive 11-win seasons from 2011-2013, featuring offensive greats Alshon Jefferey, Marcus Lattimore, Bruce Ellington, and Connor Shaw, among other future pros, the foundation for success under Spurrier was the defense. The beginning of the end of the most successful era in school history came when D coordinator Ellis Johnson left the program to become head coach at Southern Miss after the 2011 season. Defensive line coach Brad Lawing left the following year, taking the same position at UF. Key players, such as Jadeveon Clowney, experienced sudden drop-offs in production, and the 2013 team featured a bad defense propped up by the best offense in school history. The defensive slide continued, becoming almost comical in 2014 and culminating in a 3- win season in 2015 capped off with a loss to the Citadel. Our window under Spurrier had shut, with only one SEC-east title to show.
The Cocks have some returning talent on defense that didn’t produce squat under the old regime. Marquavius Lewis (#1 ranked JUCO transfer coming into last season) and Shameik Blackshear (5 star DE) were disappointments. Look for us to make big strides on D under the new coaching staff. Ellis Johnson is returning, along with fellow 2015 Auburn assistants (and ace recruiters) Travaris Robertson and Lance Thompson. Muschamp has put emphasis on recruiting, something Spurrier notoriously hated, and will bring about a big shift in culture from Spurrier’s laid-back style.
But what about the offense? Muschamp swears he has learned from his mistakes at Florida. New O coordinator Kurt Roper was with Muschamp for his last year at Florida only, and the story is that there was simply not enough time in one year to turn the putrid UF offense around. After a stint with the Cleveland Browns, Roper comes to Columbia with plans to institute a tempo offense centered around our highest rated recruit, incoming true freshman Brandon McIlwain.
McIlwain is a two-sport phenom. He was the Gatorade high school football player of the year in Pennsylvania, as well as a highly regarded baseball prospect, rated by Baseball America as the 16th-best high school baseball prospect last year. Disappointingly, he was not able to earn much playing time on the Gamecock baseball team this past season as an early enrollee, as he split his time between baseball and spring football. The O-line and receiver corps are question marks. Expectations are low-moderate for this year’s team among fans, low-low among media (picked dead last in the east).
If we can go a full season without any O-linemen pancaking each other, it will go down as a success.