South Carolina hit the pause button on spring practice after Thursday and will take a 10-day break that coincides with the school’s spring break. Seems like as good a time as any for a State of the Gamecocks report.
From quarterback Jake Bentley’s perspective, things are looking pretty good.
“It’s really a different attitude through spring practice so far,” the junior said during the first week of spring practice. “Guys are really locked in. This year, we see the potential of our team and what we can accomplish, and I definitely think that hunger is there to go accomplish bigger things. It’s a different energy, more positive, more upbeat feel to the whole practice right now.”
South Carolina has improved its record by three wins in each of the past two seasons (going from 3-9 in 2015 to 6-7 in 2016 to 9-4 in 2017) for the first time in Gamecocks history. That’s a feather in the program’s cap, but it’s not that impressive, it seems, to coach Will Muschamp.
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“I think they have handled what little success we have had very well. It’s been very little,” he said as his team opened spring practice. “I told our football team we have made progress, we haven’t accomplished anything. Let’s understand where we are.”
So let’s take a look at that. Where, exactly, are the Gamecocks as they prepare for the 2018 season? They are preparing for a season in which the SEC’s Eastern Division is as unimpressive top to bottom as it has been in a long time. There’s a very good team at the top in defending conference champion Georgia and traditional powers like Florida and Tennessee lurking with new coaches, but South Carolina is looking at a schedule in which it might be favored in every divisional game but one.
The Gamecocks finished in second place in the SEC East last year and should realistically expect to match that finish this year. As for exceeding that spot, that probably would require an upset of Georgia on Sept. 8 in Williams-Brice Stadium. That’s a long shot but not an impossibility.
“I think it’s time, as a team, to really take the next step,” Bentley said. “Coach Muschamp talks all the time about how the improvement has been great, but we still haven’t accomplished our two big goals.”
Those two big goals being to win the SEC East and beat Clemson.
“That’s what we’re going to try to do this year,” Bentley said.
Then South Carolina’s coaches might give their team a pat on the back. Until then, though, they don’t want to seem to talk about it.
“Last year is gone. Our focus is on what is ahead,” defensive coordinator Travaris Robinson said. “We don’t worry about the past. We don’t worry about the future. We worry about the now. We’ll take it day by day and get better each day.”
Will they get good enough by September to topple the Dogs? We’ll all have to wait and see.