The modern structure of college football offenses will put South Carolina in an odd spot in 2018.
The vast majority of current offenses play with three receivers and one tight end, or a pair of each. This is even more prevalent in high-tempo spread offenses, like the one USC is installing this offseason, as a versatile tight end can operate in the box and expand the possibilities in the running game and split out in a four-wide look.
That was easy last season with Hayden Hurst, who bridged the gap between big inside receiver and capable run blocker. How it works this season will be less clear, as four of the top five tight ends are either more suited for slot work or as in-line blockers (the fifth has hardly played).
Usually the idea of just throwing out the top big-name pass-catchers is more the realm of fans building fantasy lineups. But new Gamecocks offensive coordinator Bryan McClendon won’t rule it out.
“Regardless of what it might do, I want the 11 out there that’s going to give us the best chance to win,” McClendon said. “So whether it’s two tight ends, four wide receivers, whether it’s three running backs, whatever it might be.”
There aren’t a ton of teams these days that will go with true four-wide looks, though several Air Raid offense schools still stick to that approach.
USC has a bounty of riches at the position, with all of last year’s starters coming back, plus adding Samuel, who missed the final 10 games of 2017. Samuel looked like one of the best playmakers in the country, with six scores in three games. Edwards has 108 catches and 1338 yards in his first two seasons. Both Smiths more than held their own when thrown in as freshmen.
And the team still has options in Randrecous Davis, Chavis Dawkins and a trio of freshmen coming in that includes four-star Josh Vann.
It remains to be seen how South Carolina’s offense will look going forward. The coaches have promised speed and tempo. There will be a larger reliance on run-pass option plays. But will there be a chance to roll out more receivers, or backs or tight ends?
“I want the 11 out there that’s going to give us the best chance to win,” McClendon said. “And then if something happens to that 11, all right, now what’s the best next set of 11 that gives us the best chance to win. Not so much in the, hey, I’m going to plug this guy in and just keep the system rolling. That might be the case sometimes, it might not.”