Fifteen predictions for South Carolina football for the 2017 season:
1. Jake Bentley will be good
South Carolina’s sophomore quarterback has some stiff competition but he will finish the season as the first- or second-team All-SEC quarterback. That will take a big season, but Bentley has the potential and the skill position people around him to do it.
2. Hayden Hurst will surprise
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Speaking of offensive talent, the junior tight end will finish in the top 20 in the country in yards per catch (which would take around 14 yards per catch). He’s more athletic than most people in the league know at the moment but that will change.
3. Skai Moore will be out front again
For the fourth times in four tries, the linebacker will lead South Carolina in tackles, becoming the first player to do that in all four years as a Gamecock. One reason is Moore is really good. The other is he won’t have too much competition for best defensive player.
4. Fans will be worried after first game
USC might beat N.C. State and it might not. Either way, the fan base is going to be worried. That’s because even if the Gamecocks get the win, they are going to give up a lot of pressure on Bentley because the Wolfpack defensive line is one of the best Carolina will see all year.
5. Sacks will be in short supply
South Carolina will finish in the bottom half of the SEC in sacks for the fourth straight year. This may be the last time that’s true under head coach Will Muschamp, but there just aren’t enough pass-rushing bodies to change the fact this year.
6. Tailback job will change hands
Returning starter Rico Dowdle and transfer Ty’Son Williams will share carries and likely swap the starting spot all year long. Both players have the look of above-average SEC backs but neither seems head and shoulders above the other.
7. Deebo Samuel, Hurst are playing final year
The junior wide receiver and junior tight end both auditioned for pro scouts this spring in order to get their names on the pro radar. Both are in position to have big seasons to follow up on that, and it’ll be hard to turn down that opportunity at the end of the year.
8. Jamyest Williams will start
Muschamp has tried to publicly downplay expectations for the top player in the 2017 signing class, but he’s too good not to contribute. The most likely spot for him is at nickel back, which is basically a starting cornerback in today’s game.
9. Bowl trip will be better
It’s foolish to try to predict which game the Gamecocks might make, but it’s likely the tier will be higher. USC’s last two postseason trips have been to the Independence Bowl and Birmingham Bowl, the bottom two in the SEC’s rotation. This year, it will move up into the Liberty Bowl, Music City Bowl tier.
10. Zack Bailey’s move will pay off
The junior offensive lineman is moving from left guard to right tackle. It’s not always a successful switch for offensive linemen, but USC coaches have been bragging about Bailey since he arrived on campus and he’s the best overall lineman on the team.
11. Gamecocks defense will struggle
South Carolina will finish in bottom half of SEC in defense, which not even last year’s struggling team did. The Gamecocks were seventh in total defense a year ago (411.9 ypg allowed), but there is so much youth that it’s hard not to expect a step backward.
12. USC will scare Clemson
But the Gamecocks won’t beat the Tigers. Since last year’s 56-7 embarrassment, South Carolina’s facility has been decorated with reminders that say “Never Again.” It won’t get that bad again but the overall gap is too much to make up in one year.
13. Jaylin Dickerson will start at safety
There are always surprises – good and bad – in signing classes. Dickerson will be one of the surprises in this signing class. An early enrollee, he impressed the coaches in spring practice and was listed as the top backup after spring practice. His aggressiveness will help him move up the chart.
14. USC will be .500 or above in SEC
That may not seem like a big deal, but it hasn’t happened since 2013. The Gamecocks’ two crossover games are winnable with Arkansas coming to Williams-Brice Stadium and Texas A&M having problems of its own. In the East, there are enough toss up games to get to four SEC wins at least.
15. Bryson Allen-Williams will blossom
It’s hard to believe the linebacker from Georgia is a senior. After the Gamecocks won a recruiting battle with Alabama and Georgia for Allen-Williams, he has been good but not great. This is the year he’ll find his niche as Muschamp gives him lots of chances to rush the quarterback.