Muschamp likes spring progress but still has areas of concern
South Carolina ended spring practice earlier than most schools around the country, but all 12 of its 2017 regular season opponents now are either done or close enough to it to get a feel for how they look post-spring practice.
North Carolina State
Sept. 2, Charlotte, N.C.
Dynamic running back Matthew Dayes is gone, and former three-star recruit Reggie Gallaspy, last year’s second-leading rusher, did nothing to lose his spot as the top replacement despite missing the spring game because of injury. Gallaspy is expected to be back for the fall and line up behind returning starting quarterback Ryan Finley, a junior with a steady hand and a good medium-range arm. The Gamecocks biggest challenge will be dealing with a defensive line that includes four returning starters in seniors Kentavius Street, Justin Jones, B.J. Hill and Bradley Chubb.
Sept. 9, Columbia, Mo.
Running back Damarea Crockett is back and bigger, which could be a problem for South Carolina. Crockett had 1,062 yards in 11 games as a freshman last year, and Missouri coaches saw enough good things from him this spring that they sat him out of the spring game to make sure he’s healthy for the fall. Offensive coordinator Josh Heupel says his entire unit has more competition than it did a year ago.
Sept. 16, Columbia
Former South Carolina recruiting target Drew Barker is no longer a factor in the Wildcats quarterback race, it seems. With Stephen Johnson the cemented starter after spring, transfer Gunnar Hoak looked good enough in the spring game (three touchdown passes) that he probably locked up the backup job. Running back Benny Snell had only three carries in the spring game, a sure sign Kentucky is saving its breakout star of last year for the fall.
Sept. 23, Columbia
The Bulldogs spent the spring trying to replace star quarterback Ryan Higgins and standout wide receivers Carlos Henderson and Trent Taylor. Sophomore quarterback J’Mar Smith might answer a lot of questions with a talented arm and the ability to run the ball enough to complement starting running back Jarred Craft on the ground. Returning defensive end starters Jaylon Ferguson and Deldrick Canty had good springs and will be a priority for South Carolina to stop.
Sept. 20, College Station, Texas
Quarterback Nick Starkel took a lead in the starting race that five-star freshman Kellen Mond might not be able to make up in the fall. Considering all the recent young quarterbacks to flame out early in Aggieland, there’s a feeling Starkel will get the nod over a new player. Running back Trayveon Williams continues to look like one of the league’s best runners. With Myles Garrett headed to the top of the NFL Draft, the Aggies will lean on a strong group of defensive tackles in the fall.
Oct. 7, Columbia
The Razorbacks still have more than a week of spring practice remaining but already have seen good signs. Arkansas might be one of the few places in college football where they still pay attention to how the fullback looks, and junior Kendrick Jackson has looked good in that role, which is good news for returning starting running back Rawleigh Williams III. Sophomore wide receiver La’Michael Pettway, who in 2015 turned down Alabama and Ohio State, also has shown signs of coming into his own.
Oct. 14, Knoxville, Tenn.
Defensive end Derek Barnett is gone, which is good news for South Carolina. The bad news for the Gamecocks and the rest of the SEC is that two Tennessee defensive ends – Jonathan Kongbo and Darrell Taylor – look good this spring. Taylor was a high school wide receiver, which speaks to his athleticism at his now 250 pounds. On the offensive line, early enrollee tackle Trey Smith has been as good as advertised, and he was highly advertised. One of the nation’s top recruits in this year, he could start up front this year.
Oct. 28, Columbia
The offensive line and replacing linebacker Zach Cunningham were the biggest areas of concern this spring. The Commodores juggled lots of players along the offensive front, trying former right tackle Justin Skule at left tackle but also giving a thought to putting 6-foot-7 redshirt freshman Devin Cochran there. Junior Cole Hardin looked to lock down the starting center job. At linebacker, Vanderbilt wants returning starter Oren Burks to fill Cunningham’s shoes.
Nov. 4, Athens, Ga.
Spring football news in Athens has mostly been about second-year coach Kirby Smart’s desire to restrict the media’s reporting, but there’s been some interesting stuff on the field, too. One of the most interesting things is seeing where Mecole Hardman lines up each day. One of the nation’s top recruits as a defensive back, he’s still considered a defender by the Dogs, but he’s been getting wide receiver work, too. That should help sophomore quarterback Jacob Eason develop. The Bulldogs offensive line has seen lots of rotating pieces as it attempts to rebound from a dismal 2016.
Nov. 11, Columbia
The Gators started spring looking for a starting quarterback, and it looks like redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks won the job after leading the starters to a victory in the spring game. “He’s ahead,” Florida coach Jim McElwain confirmed. Freshman Kyle Trask continues to at least be a public part of the competition, though. Junior wide receiver Antonio Callaway and junior running back Jordan Scarlett both looked good, which is good for the Gators offense no matter who the quarterback is.
No. 18, Columbia
The Terriers have to replace their entire offensive backfield. Joseph Newman and Brandon Goodson competed for the starting quarterback job this spring, and both did well enough that the job won’t be decided until the fall. Andre Stoddard emerged as the leading candidate to replace All-American Lorenzo Long at fullback. The defense, which has eight starters returning, didn’t have many questions to answer.
Nov. 25, Columbia
Junior Kelly Bryant looked good enough this spring to be given the clichéd “if the season started today” starting nod; however, true freshman Hunter Johnson is expected to get a long look in the fall. Deshaun Watson isn’t the only offensive star the Tigers must replace, though. Running back Wayne Gallman and wide receiver Mike Williams are gone, too. Running back Tavien Feaster and wide receivers Ray-Ray McCloud and Deon Cain looked good this spring.