USC Gamecocks Football

South Carolina's biggest wildcards for 2018? Look for the old hands

It's not exactly what you'd expect when you see the word "wildcard."

In a college football context, that's for a young player stepping into a new role, a first-time starting quarterback. It's not a title reserved for fifth-year seniors with double-digit starts on their resumes.

But for South Carolina's football, two of the wildest cards, at least in the eyes of Athlon's season preview, are two of the oldest hands they've got.

USC's picks in the overall list of SEC teams were wide receiver Deebo Samuel and linebacker Bryson Allen-Williams. Both were knocked out for the season against Kentucky in 2017 and both should make big impacts next season if they're on the field.

"When healthy, Samuel was perhaps the most dynamic playmaker in the SEC in 2017," Athlon contributor Nick Cole wrote. "Unfortunately for Gamecocks fans and highlight-reel producers alike, Samuel's breakout junior season was cut short due to a season-ending leg injury. Samuel is back for his senior season, and all signs point to good health heading into the fall. He's the "wild card" for this group because if he's at full capacity, he may be the key ingredient to a SEC East title run for the Gamecocks. If not, well, let's just say the path is a little more difficult."

Samuel scored six touchdowns on 19 touched in the first three games of 2017. He caught 15 passes, ran for a 25-yard touchdown and returned a pair of kickoffs for scores. Then came the broken bone in his leg, then the setback that brought him back for another year.

While Samuel was the big story of the start of the season, Allen-Williams' blossoming was subtler. A former blue chipper who bounced between positions his first two years and settled at linebacker in Will Muschamp's first year, he became a multi-use threat with Skai Moore back. He was a strongside linebacker, working in coverage often, and a Buck in a 3-3-5 pass-rush package.

"They’ll need him to fill a big role," Cole wrote. "If South Carolina is going to make a run at Georgia for the division title, a return to 100-percent health for the versatile defender is a must. From there, Will Muschamp must figure out where Allen-Williams fits best with the personnel available."

He had 10 tackles, a pair of sacks and an interceptions in less than three games. How the Gamecocks can use him this year will likely rest on the development of the linebackers outside T.J. Brunson. Allen-Williams could be a full-time weakside backer, but if someone steps up, he could be used in a range of spots.