With a defensive-minded coach and a slew of offensive struggles last season, it wouldn’t seem as if the South Carolina football team had built a group of high-ceiling pass catchers.
But the Gamecocks group is getting some notice.
ESPN’s Edward Aschoff listed USC’s trio of Deebo Samuel, Hayden Hurst and Bryan Edwards as the top group in the SEC. That group started most of last season, and all were underclassmen.
“Yes, it has to look funny to have an offensive group from a Will Muschamp-coached team getting this much love,” Aschoff wrote. “But you just can't ignore the numbers. Samuel and Edwards combined to catch 103 passes for 1,373 yards and five touchdowns at receiver last year. Hurst returns as arguably the league's top tight end after catching 48 passes for 616 yards and a touchdown in 2016.”
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Samuel missed three games and most of a fourth early in the season, but finished eighth in the SEC with 783 yards and 59 receptions. Edwards had 590 yards and 44 catches while breaking into the lineup as a true freshman.
The Gamecocks also added a pair of four-star freshmen for 2017 in OrTre Smith and Shi Smith.
The passing game’s production also ticked up once Jake Bentley stepped in at quarterback. Aschoff had ranked Bentley and USC tailback Rico Dowdle as an SEC backfield duo to watch.