5. Cory Helms, Guard
We know South Carolina cannot thrive if the offensive front is as porous as last season. The group returns a few starters, moves a tackle from right to left, but beyond maturation, Helms is the new element. A 23-game starter his first two years at Wake Forest, he brings experience and versatility, albeit for a unit that had its share of issues in the ACC. That said, unless either Donnell Stanley and Zack Bailey both take big leaps, Helms should find himself starting at guard and could slide down to center in a pinch.
4. Hayden Hurst, TE
The former minor league baseball player has tantalized coaches with his promise. He's got size at 6-foot-4, 250 pounds and can move well. He was tried at receiver before shifting to tight end, and will be asked to do a few different things than tight ends in the late Spurrier era. His ability as a blocker could key new elements in the running game, and this staff uses tight ends in a variety of ways. With the dearth of experience at receiver and modest experience at quarterback, an emergence as a reliable target would not go amiss.
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3. Deebo Samuel, WR
Speaking of targets, it's hard to imagine there are many receivers as expected to be a top guy with so little experience. Samuel spent his redshirt freshman season perpetually dogged by a hamstring issue. He overcame that late in the season in time to pull in four receptions against The Citadel and break the 100-yard mark with his first career score a week later against Clemson. Considering several of the team's other top receivers are freshmen, former cornerbacks and one-time walk-ons, Samuel's development could prove vital.
2. David Williams, RB
He's got the talent, now the key is honing and focusing it. After a promising freshman season, the 6-foot-1, 216 back had a rough 2015. He was the No. 2 back and made four starts, but averaged an anemic 3.5 yards a carry. He struggled with zone runs (half USC's offense on the ground) and had several games where his average carry didn't surpass three yards. But with Brandon Wilds graduating, Williams is the presumptive starter. He'll have some less proven backups, but he'll also have the first crack at the bulk of the workload.
1. Brandon McIlwain, QB
Perhaps Perry Orth deserves to be here, as he's far more seasoned and has a good chance to start in USC's crucial opening stretch. But at the moment, McIlwain is the one to keep an eye on. If he can earn a starting job, that tells us something. Coaches like the way he operates, and he combines solid passing skills with speed in the run game. He was an Elite 11 quarterback, and that competition has shifted toward weighing a player's makeup and soft factors. If McIlwain keeps his head above water, it makes USC a different and more dangerous outfit.