Each year, bowl preparation allows some college football players a chance to step forward.
Some are going through their first season. Some weren’t around for spring practice. They’ve not had a time to throttle back and focus on the small things, as compared with preparing for the next game.
Will Muschamp has compared the coming bowl practices, which should start after finals wrap up around Dec. 18, with a second spring practice. He named a few players who’ve been coming on and might be able to benefit, notably a junior college player who spent much of the year behind the curve.
“Keisean (Nixon) did a fantastic job when he got in our last ball game,” Muschamp said. “Certainly, we need to be more physical on the perimeter. That’s been an issue since we’ve been here. He’s, certainly, going to get a lot more opportunities, there’s no doubt about that.”
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The 5-foot-10, 192-pound corner played in 11 games, making a few big plays when he did. He was mostly on defense late in blowouts, but he managed interceptions against Arkansas and Clemson, one he returned for a touchdown. He also recovered a fumbled punt.
As a sturdier corner, he showed signs of adding a little more toughness outside, but he also had some lapses in coverage. He joined the team late in August and never seemed able to recover to earn a rotation spot.
These practices could allow for some catch up, but they’ll also allow for other players to make cases going forward.
“For all those young players, I think it will be huge for them,” Muschamp said. “We need some tight ends to step up. At linebacker, Sherrod Greene — this will be huge for him to go through the spring practice. Damani Staley is a guy that we’re excited about his future here. All those guys, again, they get an opportunity to take a step forward with the reps and the amount of turns they’re going to get.”
USC has a bevy of young tight ends with potential, but veterans Hayden Hurst and Jacob August got most of the work, with Kiel Pollard picking up some snaps after K.C. Crosby went down. Evan Hinson and redshirting freshman Will Register are both up-and-comers there.
Greene was forced into work as a third starting linebacker in his true freshman season, seeing his role get bigger and smaller based on opponent and health. Staley developed into solid special teamer, who played in four of the final six games.
And some of the Gamecocks who’ve already carved out roles could use that extra time. This season, South Carolina’s top receivers have been one true sophomore and a cadre of true and redshirt freshmen.
“We’ve had a lot of young guys play, and they’re doing a nice job,” Muschamp said. “For (Randrecous) Davis to be able to have a spring ball or OrTre (Smith) to continue to progress the way he has throughout the year and have another spring ball.”