This is the spring of the Will Muschamp era.
You’re excited for the new era of South Carolina football. You’re laughing at all his jokes. You’re sure that every three-star prospect he woos is a diamond in the rough bound for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Reality arrives in the fall. The Gamecocks were 3-9 last year, and it wasn’t a hard luck 3-9. South Carolina earned that record. The Gamecocks were in the top half of the SEC in turnover margin at plus-five for the season, so it’s not as if they were undone by turnovers. They had injuries at quarterback, but neither Connor Mitch nor Lorenzo Nunez was lighting it up before he left.
This is a team with issues. It finished No. 11 in the conference in total offense and No. 14 in total defense in 2015, and the cupboard doesn’t look any more stocked heading into the 2016 season.
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The Gamecocks will have to replace 59 percent of their all-purpose yards from the 2015 team, including their top four producers in that category — Pharoh Cooper (1,139), Brandon Wilds (709), Shon Carson (630) and Jerell Adams (421).
The leading tackler of the past three years — linebacker Skai Moore — is gone. Last year’s second-leading tackler — rent-a-safety Isaiah Johnson — is gone. Their 185 combined stops were nearly a quarter of the Gamecocks’ total last year.
South Carolina and its fans can take comfort in the fact that the SEC East will be beast-less for something like the 10th straight season in 2016. Tennessee is likely to be the preseason pick to win the division, and Florida and Georgia will have enough talent to be dangerous, but the Gamecocks’ schedule is not exactly Murderers’ Row.
If South Carolina is going to compete for a winning season, David Williams will have to be as good as he believes he can be at tailback, and whoever emerges from a complicated quarterback competition will have to be more than solid. On top of that, the defense will have to get a lot of production from second-year linemen such as Marquavius Lewis, Boosie Whitlow and Dante Sawyer.
The next eight months will be about building momentum for Muschamp, which he can do through recruiting, spring practice and summer conditioning. He will need all of it he can get when the season begins on Sept. 1 in Nashville, Tenn., against Vanderbilt.
Sept. 1, 2016: At Vanderbilt in season-opener