Will Muschamp still has to wait nearly seven months before he coaches his first game at South Carolina, but there’s plenty for the Gamecocks new head coach to do between now and then.
Below we’ve listed five story lines to watch between now and September.
The Gamecocks have three quarterbacks with starting experience and a four-star freshman who has enrolled early in order to join the competition. All the eyes will be on that freshman – Brandon McIlwain – as South Carolina begins spring practice in March.
“I expect him to come in and work his butt off. That’s my expectation right now, and once he comes in and does that, we will build from there,” Muschamp said.
South Carolina will not hesitate to play a freshman at quarterback if that player wins the job, Muschamp said.
“Play the best player, doesn’t matter what position, our track record speaks for itself,” he said.
Perry Orth, Connor Mitch and Lorenzo Nunez have a head start on McIlwain because they all started at least two games in 2015, although the athletic Nunez would make a heck of a wide receiver if the new staff asks him to change positions and can convince him to do it.
Muschamp got this job in large part because he and South Carolina athletics director Ray Tanner share the same philosophy about the importance of recruiting in collegiate athletics. “Not a day goes by that I don’t think about recruiting,” Muschamp told Tanner during the interview process.
Muschamp’s long-term success won’t be defined by his first recruiting class, but the next month is important to start building momentum for his program. South Carolina sits No. 33 in the nation in 247Sports’ recruiting rankings. It ranks No. 11 in the SEC.
Those rankings will improve during Muschamp’s tenure, but will they improve enough for South Carolina to consistently compete for the SEC East title?
Nobody has announced yet they are leaving the program other than early NFL entrant Pharoh Cooper. Linebacker Skai Moore announced Thursday that he will stay for his senior season.
But there is invariably attrition during a coaching change. As of Monday, Muschamp hadn’t heard from anyone who was planning to leave, but a few names will pop up once spring practice has finished (if not before).
Muschamp might make history by becoming the first coach in the history of college football to take a new job and not make a disparaging remark about the overall conditioning of the team he inherits. “We are going to have to whip these guys into shape,” is as much a tradition as picking up the keys to the new courtesy car. Of course, Muschamp is barely a month into his tenure, so there’s still time.
The quirks of the new strength coach (in this case Jeff Dillman, and yes all strength coaches have quirks) is always one of the most fascinating details of an SEC coaching change. Will the Gamecocks train with a former Navy SEAL? Will they flip truck tires from here to Camden? Or will they invent some whole new wacky way to ensure they pick up that fourth-and-1 in the fourth quarter in November?
The “rubber chicken circuit” is the derisive nickname for all the various speaking appearances a politician makes and the bad food he eats along the way. The SEC offseason version of that is the “fried chicken circuit,” and Muschamp will bounce from point to point in the state meeting with Gamecock Club chapters to sell himself. His energy will play well with the faithful in this first year.
It’s not lost on South Carolina’s administration that Muschamp’s hiring was not labeled “a home run” in many places in the national media. While that reality will have exactly zero impact on whether or not Muschamp turns out to be a good hire, you can expect to hear Gamecock officials tooting his horn throughout the offseason, and it will be interesting to see the response to South Carolina’s new coach by the time SEC Media Days rolls around in July.
Three to watch
1. Brandon McIlwain
Freshman QB will enroll early and get chance to complete for starting job.
2. Will Muschamp
New coach must establish recruiting and convince fans he’s right man for job.
3. Skai Moore
USC’s leading tackler returns for his senior season to lead a rebuilt defense.