South Carolina finished last in the SEC in scoring last year with 20.8 points per game. It was next-to-last in yardage with 347.5 yards per game. There’s hope for better in 2017 if these five players can reach their potential:
The sophomore starting quarterback completed 65.8 percent of his passes for 1,420 yards, nine touchdowns and four interceptions in seven starts last year, and he is expected to put up much bigger numbers this year if he stays upright. Bentley’s biggest point of emphasis this offseason has been mastering the team’s protection schemes so that he won’t be sacked an average of 3.4 times per start as he was last year. An improved offensive line should help, but Bentley needs to help out the front five by knowing the complete package of protections.
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The sophomore had a breakout game against Tennessee last year and went on to lead the team with 133 carries for 764 yards and six touchdowns. Still, he will have to hold off North Carolina transfer Ty’son Williams, who impressed the coaching staff during the year he sat out and had a good spring. Last year, Dowdle was the first true freshman to lead South Carolina in rushing since Marcus Lattimore in 2010. This year, he will be counted on to lead a resuscitation of what was the 13th-ranked rushing attack in the SEC last year.
The junior offensive lineman is making the move from left guard to right tackle in what could be his final season at South Carolina. The 6-foot-6, 311-pound Summerville native is the Gamecocks best offensive lineman and this spring participated in workouts for NFL scouts designed to showcase players who might leave school early in the future. Bailey’s move from guard to tackle went smoothly in the spring, but he was practicing against mostly inexperienced defensive ends on his own team. The competition increases greatly this fall.
The junior tight end has heard from the coaching staff to be ready for a lot of action to come his way. Offensive coordinator Kurt Roper likes to incorporate his tight ends, and he’s had a year to get comfortable with what Hurst to do, which is a lot with his athletic 6-foot-5, 253-pound frame. Hurst was the team’s second-leading receiver last year with 48 catches for 616 yards and one touchdown. Those numbers are expected to rise this year.
The team’s leading receiver a year ago was this junior wide receiver, who caught 59 passes for 783 yards. Samuel also rushed 15 times for 98 yards. His touches will go up in his second year with Bentley at the helm. In particular, the Gamecocks would like to get Samuel in the end zone more. He had only one receiving touchdown last year compared to six rushing touchdowns. The continued emergence of sophomore wide receiver Bryan Edwards should help Samuel shine.