Most college football seasons, there’s at least some sense of normalcy. A rhythm of players working hard, coaches delivering standard messages, everything working up to games. The usual.
The South Carolina Gamecocks have hardly had a week so far that one would call “the usual.”
This 2019 season, five games and hardly a month old, has managed to stay odd throughout. Things haven’t been easy. Surprising shifts have come each and every week. The team just lost its promising right tackle for a month, and that probably doesn’t even make a list of big happenings.
So it’s worth looking at exactly what have the Gamecocks come through this season.
July 29: Tavien Feaster makes his move
It seemed like a poorly kept secret at points, but just before camp started and a week before he’d finally suit up, Clemson graduate transfer tailback Tavien Feaster officially said he’d be joining USC.
The Tiger-to-Gamecock transition is an unusual one, and it changed the look of South Carolina’s backfield before anyone even hit the field for a real practice.
August: Tight ends thinning
This is sort of three steps. The Gamecocks spent most of the offseason with four veteran tight ends, none labeled as stars but at least two considered reliable. In a span of a few weeks, they were down to two.
No. 1 tight end Kiel Pollard was first missing from practice, and then he announced a spinal condition was going to end his career. That came a few days after news No. 3 tight end Evan Hinson would miss the start of the season after heart surgery. Before the opener, Hinson was gone, transferring to play basketball at Austin Peay.
It left Kyle Markway as the only player at the position with any real experience. A former walk-on offensive lineman (Chandler Farrell) had to slide over to help.
Aug. 31: The Nick Muse saga, part 1
South Carolina had waited all of camp to find out if William & Mary transfer tight end Nick Muse would become eligible for the 2019 Gamecocks. After the Pollard and Hinson news, he was badly needed.
And the team waited on news from the NCAA — waited, and waited and waited. It pushed up to the day before the game, and then the team left Columbia with him still in limbo.
Muse drove up to his family home for the North Carolina game, hoping he might get a last-second pregame reprieve. Instead, his family went to the game, while he watched at home, 20 minutes away, with his dog.
Sept. 2: Jake Bentley’s season ends, Hilinski steps in
News started to leak out in the late afternoon of Monday, Sept. 2, that QB Jake Bentley had a foot injury and was set to miss some time. He suffered a lisfranc injury just at the end of the North Carolina game, a loss that put South Carolina behind the eight ball in chasing a bowl spot from the start.
Head coach Will Muschamp initially said it would be at least a month before the quarterback could return. A week later he said Bentley would have surgery and end his season.
Bentley’s injury changed the dynamics of the season and the course of one of the more prolific careers in program history. He came in as a senior, ready to chase some of the program’s career passing records. Instead, a freshman is stepping in and showing well, leaving what looked like a program bedrock in a limbo of his own.
It also forced Ryan Hilinski, a top-70 national recruit into the action his second game on campus. He’d spoken during his recruitment about playing this season if Jake Bentley had gone pro, and ended up with his chance in an unexpected way.
Sept. 6: Nick Muse saga, Part 2
A week earlier, Gamecocks fans had seen his situation go right down to the wire for the opener. As the team was almost set to play Charleston Southern, Muse was declared eligible by the NCAA.
He started modestly, fumbling his first catch at Williams-Brice, but has eight catches in four games and has provided some flexibility for the team.
Sept. 20: Hilinski’s elbow
South Carolina managed to get through the Alabama week and most of Missouri week somewhat uneventfully. The main topics of discussion were “Remember the 2010 upset?” followed by “Hilinski looked good against ‘Bama” and then “What’s it like to face Kelly Bryant in a different uniform?” You know, non-seismic shifts in a season.
And then the Friday afternoon before the Missouri game, word leaked that Hilinski, the toast of the town after the performance against the Tide, was dealing with an elbow injury. First it was rumors, then some reports he actually missed practice. (After the game, it was revealed he’d hardly practiced at all). The school said he was in Columbia, Missouri and ready to go, but the morning of the game, Muschamp said the QB was dealing with elbow tendonitis.
Hilinski had a sub-par game (13-30, 166 yards), and that set off another round of questions around playing him and what came next.
Sept. 23: Jam’s gone
The new NCAA redshirt rule is making it more common for players to announce a decision to transfer four games into the season. But it didn’t seem likely that a player who started three of four games would make the call.
Yet late on a Monday night, reports broke that Gamecocks safety Jamyest Williams was going to put his name in the transfer portal. One of the early big recruits in the Muschamp era at USC, Williams had started as a freshman but struggled to overcome his size or find a consistent spot.
His departure left the team with even a thinner defensive back rotation then before.
Sept. 26: Joyner sidelined
Perhaps a backup quarterback sitting out isn’t the biggest blip, but this was a notable one.
Joyner had been a focus of fascination ever since arriving as an explosive four-star passer. He lost the backup battle to Hilinski. Instead of transferring, he accepted a move to wide receiver and then found himself a QB backup as well after Bentley’s injury.
The Thursday before the Kentucky game, reports trickled out Joyner was nursing a hamstring injury. Muschamp confirmed it and said Joyner was being held out of the Kentucky game for precautionary reasons.
It meant Jay Urich, who also had moved over to receiver, was now the No. 2 QB. The third-stringer was a walk-on.
And all that — plus the UNC upset, the Missouri loss and ending the Kentucky losing streak — is the drama this program went through in practice and on the field, all before the calendar rolled over to October.