The top storylines for South Carolina’s defense in 2018
South Carolina begins head coach Will Muschamp’s third season as head coach on Sept. 1 against Coastal Carolina in Williams-Brice Stadium. Practice for 2018 begins Friday. Here are nine predictions about what might happen this season:
Javon Kinlaw is playing his final season at South Carolina
Apologies for starting off with a punch in the gut, but look at the bright side — this would mean the junior defensive tackle has a monster year in 2018. Kinlaw started 10 games last year despite showing up in the summer 40 pounds overweight. At 6-foot-6, 305 pounds, he seems to be in peak physical condition this summer and his combination of size and athleticism will make NFL teams salivate.
Jake Bentley could be, too
Arguments that Bentley didn’t make as big a jump as he might have from his freshman or sophomore season or that the junior quarterback needs to be more accurate are valid. Any argument that he’s not the best option at quarterback for the Gamecocks and that South Carolina should look hard at a freshman quarterback is absurd. Period. The 6-foot-4 junior could throw for more than 3,000 yards in a new faster offensive system and might consider an early NFL jump after that.
T.J. Brunson will have a 100-tackle season
The junior middle linebacker had 88 tackles last season and that was with tackling machine Skai Moore on the team. The Gamecocks defensive coaches have put a lot of responsibility on Brunson’s shoulders this season, on and off the field. They praised how he handled it the spring. Moore had 111 tackles in 2015. That’s the only triple-digit tackle season at South Carolina since Jasper Brinkley had 107 in 2006.
Jamyest Williams will lead team in interceptions
Moving the sophomore defensive back from nickel back to safety speaks to the lack of confidence South Carolina has in its secondary depth, but the bright side could be that it allows Williams more flexibility to show off his ball skills. The Gamecocks lost a lot of players from last year’s team who had a knack for getting turnovers, which was one of Williams’ best traits as a high school prospect. It has been 13 years since a Gamecock had more than four interceptions in a season.
A.J. Turner will lead the team in rushing
Rico Dowdle and Ty’Son Williams have shown enough flashes of talent that South Carolina fans and coaches really, really want one of them to break out of the running back pack and take a firm hold on the starting job. Instead, steady 195-pound junior A.J. Turner keeps getting the most important carries. Turner led South Carolina with 531 rushing yards last year.
The Gamecocks will win nine games
South Carolina will be big favorites in two games — Coastal Carolina and Marshall — and big underdogs in two — Georgia and Clemson. That leaves eight games on the regular season schedule that can be considered toss-ups at worst. Winning all of those might be a tall task, but winning six of eight would give South Carolina a chance to get to nine wins in a bowl game. That would give Will Muschamp 24 wins in his first three seasons.
South Carolina will average more than 25 points per game
That might not seem all that bold, but it would be the first time since 2014 that the Gamecocks have done that. The old trope that defense wins championships just isn’t true in college football at the moment. Last year’s CFB Playoff final four – Alabama, Clemson, Georgia and Oklahoma — all averaged more than 33 points per game last year. Defense might win nine games. It takes an offense to win a championship.
Aaron Sterling will lead the team in sacks
D.J. Wonnum led the team with six sacks a year ago and will get all the preseason attention, but Sterling shouldn’t be overlooked. The 6-foot-1, 245-pound sophomore is terribly undersized to be playing on the defensive line in the SEC, but he’s productive nonetheless. He had two sacks last year as a true freshman and could be line for a big jump in production this year.
The Gamecocks will finish in the Top 25
South Carolina hasn’t finished a season ranked since following the 2013 season. The Gamecocks haven’t been ranked at all since the fifth week of the 2014 season. It’s possible that USC will be a preseason Top 25 team in the Associated Press poll (which the school uses as its official measuring stick), but it’s more likely that it will be on the list when the season ends.