Josh Kendall

Gamecocks are trending up. How far they’ll go in the SEC a hot topic

The Southeastern Conference will release its media predictions for the 2018 season on Friday. Where South Carolina lands in those projections will be a mark of the Gamecocks’ progress and their perception entering Year 3 under Will Muschamp.

Muschamp, South Carolina’s head coach, is pleased with the progress but cares little about the perception.

“Goals and expectations are great, but if you don’t understand what it takes to attain those goals and you don’t understand the work and the everyday operation it’s going to take to be successful, then you’ll never achieve those things,” Muschamp said Thursday on the final day of SEC Media Days. “We’re a day-to-day organization. Right now, we’re trying to finish summer, and then we need to have a great training camp.”

The Gamecocks finished second in the SEC East a year ago with a conference record of 5-3 to go along with an overall record of 9-4. Chances are, they’ll either be picked second or third in the East heading into this season.

Defending conference champion and national runner-up Georgia is the clear favorite in the division with South Carolina and Florida jockeying for the next spot. I voted Georgia first, South Carolina second, Florida third, Kentucky fourth, Tennessee fifth, Missouri sixth and Vanderbilt seventh; but enough people might choose the Gators to give them the No. 2 spot.

“I feel like we’re in a much better place right now than we were two years ago, obviously,” said Muschamp, referring to taking over a program that had finished 3-9 in the previous season. “I think we need to have a great training camp to have the type of season we want to have. Our goal does not change. It’s to win the East and win our state. We haven’t done that yet. We have made some progress, but we need to accomplish some things.”

What those things could be this season Muschamp didn’t want to speculate, and it was clear he had passed that message on to the players who accompanied him to Atlanta as quarterback Jake Bentley, wide receiver Deebo Samuel and defensive end D.J. Wonnum all pointed toward training camp, which opens Aug. 3, and not beyond in the their media sessions.

“I think it’s going to start with having a great training camp this year,” Bentley said (repeatedly), “having the right mindset, not the mindset that I’m tired or I’m sore but that it’s an opportunity to get better.”

Muschamp pointed to the 2004 LSU national title team on which he was an assistant coach and other successful teams in his background to illustrate his point on the importance of the month of practice leading up to the Sept. 1 season-opener against Coastal Carolina.

“They all had great training camps, and our guys are focused on training camp and having a great training camp,” he said.

Of course, the media collected here wanted to talk about the Sept. 8 game against the Bulldogs that will establish the leader in the SEC East.

“We know that game is looming, but the winner or loser of that game is not going to determine the East,” Muschamp said. “There’s a lot of football to be played after that game, regardless of the circumstances and the outcome of the game.”

For the moment, there’s no football to be played, leaving us to wonder what everyone thinks about the Gamecocks heading into 2018 and how close it will be to reality of what is to come.

Related stories from The State in Columbia SC