Josh Kendall

20 experts predict Will Muschamp’s first season at USC

South Carolina enters the 2016 football season, its first under head coach Will Muschamp, with more questions than answers so we thought we’d start the year off with one question for members of the college football media both locally and nationally. We asked 20 people, “What do you expect from the Gamecocks in 2016 and from Muschamp in his second stint as a head coach in the SEC?” Here are their answers:

GEORGE SCHROEDER

national college football writer, USA Today

I expect him to learn from some of the things that he might not even want to admit that he didn’t do as well at Florida. I do still think it’s a good time to be in the SEC East. I know everybody is talking about Tennessee. People are thinking Florida is maybe on the rise, but I think they might take a step back, and I don’t know what to expect from Georgia, so I think it’s a good time to be in the SEC East still.

MIKE BIANCHI

sports columnist, Orlando Sentinel

I don’t know how good this year will be because from all indications he wasn’t left a lot of talent to work with, but I do think, I think I’m in the minority on this, I think Muschamp was a good hire for South Carolina. I think he’s going to do a good job. I think he learned a lot at Florida. I think he learned a lot about what not to do on offense, and I think he’ll do a great job at South Carolina. He’s a great recruiter. He’s a good Xs and Os guy, and the expectations at South Carolina are not going to be nearly as crushing as they were at Florida.

KEVIN SCARBINSKY

sports columnist, AL.com

The one thing I expect is they will be a tougher team under Will. That’s his MO. He won’t accept anything less, and while people want to poke fun at the Auburn defense last year, it got better as the season went along. Look at the Georgia game, look at the Alabama game. Derrick Henry put up a lot of yards, but they were hard yards and Alabama didn’t really separate them until the end. Will is hard-nosed. He will demand toughness and he will make that a tougher team and a tougher program.

JIMMY HYAMS

sports radio host, WNML in Knoxville, Tenn.

I don’t think they will be very good. I think there is a reason Steve Spurrier stepped aside at midseason. I think he realized he didn’t have a very good roster, didn’t have a very good team. He has left a roster that is not very desirable for Will Muschamp, and I think they are going to struggle early. I think that Muschamp has maybe learned from the mistakes he made at Florida to improve at South Carolina, but talent-wise he is behind the 8-ball, so I think South Carolina will be one of the two or three worst teams in the SEC.

KYLE TUCKER

sports columnist, SEC Country

I don’t know. It’s going to be interesting. Before (Muschamp’s) head coaching issues, he was obviously a great defensive coordinator so I would expect him to improve them there. It was an interesting hire. I think for a lot of people it was not a popular choice. It did not go well at Florida. I would expect them to be an improved defense, but I am reserving judgment. To me the most interesting thing is what did he learn from a failed experiment at Florida.

BRUCE FELDMAN

national college football writer, FOXSports.com

Be patient. I think this is the year where Vandy and Kentucky could get out of the basement and I think South Carolina could be in it. I don’t think the cupboard was left very stocked for Muschamp. I like the staff he hired but I think you’ve got to be patient

ANDY STAPLES

national college football writer, Sports Illustrated

I like that lake house. … They have to get a little better than they were last year. The circumstances can’t be much worse than they were at the end of last season. They’ll have new life, but they are still not going to have the roster they need to compete with some of the teams they have to play. I will be interested to see how Kurt Roper’s offense works there. Will has said he felt like he would still be the head coach at Florida had he hired a guy like Kurt Roper his first year at Florida. So I want to see what the difference is when Roper comes in with Muschamp. I don’t think Will is wrong about that. I think the biggest mistake he made at Florida was hiring Charlie Weis as his offensive coordinator right away. It changed how they recruited. It changed how they evaluated, and it put them in a hole they never really could get out of. Now having a much better idea of what he wants from an offense is going to help him from a whole program standpoint. I don’t know how much it’s going to help him this year, but you would think going forward they are going to have a lot better plan for who they recruit and how they run the offense.

MATT STINCHCOMB

college football analyst, ESPN

I don’t have real high hopes for the team this year. There is quite a bit of rebuilding to do. You could see it last year. I think they have done a good job re-emphasizing recruiting, re-tooling what they are doing in recruiting. You look at this conference and it’s funny how the best coaches always seem to have the best players. Those almost always go hand in hand. I think it will take a little bit of time to develop what is on that roster now or to inject some new talent from a recruiting standpoint. I think it’s an uphill climb this year for sure.

JON SOLOMON

national college football writer, CBSSports.com

Could be rough. I think it’s going to be a rebuilding job. I don’t think Steve Spurrier really left a ton of great talent compared to where it was in the middle of his tenure at South Carolina, the Lattimore-Clowney years. It’s going to be tough I think for Muschamp, at least initially.

TONY BARNHART

national college football writer, Gridiron Now

If you take a serious look at the level of talent that’s on that team, 6-6 would be a really good year. I just think to lose your best offensive player (Pharoh Cooper), and the Skai Moore loss was just a bad loss. Given where everything is from a talent standpoint, six wins would be a good year, seven wins would be a great year, I think.

COREY MILLER

former Gamecocks LB and sports anchor, WACH Fox

I really believe they are going to be a much better football team. Now how that turns into wins, I’m not sure, but I would think they are going to double what they won last year. I’ve known Will for three years. I like what he brings to the table as a coach, just a fearless recruiter, a great teacher, a great developer of talent, and when you look at his coaching staff, I think they have one of the best in the country. They’re going to play better. I know they are limited in talent in certain areas on the field, but I like them to be in a bowl game.

JOHN ADAMS

sports columnist, Knoxville (Tenn.) News-Sentinel

Worst team in the league. Question marks at almost every position. I don’t understand the Muschamp hire. He failed at Florida. Couldn’t develop an offense.

MARK BRADLEY

sports columnist, AJC.com

Not very high. I think that my documented issues with Steve Spurrier notwithstanding, I thought he did a great job at South Carolina. I think that we’re about to see that that may be the high water point of Gamecock football in the foreseeable future. I think most of the arguments, the old knocks, still apply. It’s a state that doesn’t produce many football players. They had a run of (Marcus) Lattimore and (Alshon) Jeffery and (Jadeveon) Clowney but I’m not sure that’s going to happen again, and I’m not sure that South Carolina is going to be able to sustain itself in the way that Spurrier was able to sustain for several very good years. And I also have real reservations about their new coach. I keep coming back to, if you couldn’t win big at Florida, which has every edge possible, how are you going to win at South Carolina, which has a lot fewer edges?

PHIL KORNBLUT

sports radio host, South Carolina Radio Network

Every time I hear Muschamp talk I am more impressed. I think he handles himself extremely well. I think the entire time he has been at South Carolina since December I think he has said the right things. He’s immediately throwing himself right out there and saying we’re going to try and win some games this year. I don’t think they can crack the top three but I think they could get fourth in the SEC East, and I really believe that the Vanderbilt game is going to set the tone. I know it’s the first game of the year, but losing to Vanderbilt could put them in position of a 1-3 start and really sort of take some of the excitement out of the new coaching staff. Win it, then you have a little wiggle room.

I think Muschamp is a guy who can be a long-term fix for South Carolina. He obviously still has the fire. I think he wants to prove to everybody that he was a good coach at Florida and that he’s going to be a great coach at South Carolina. I think he’s recruiting his tail off, really personally taking over the recruiting efforts at South Carolina, something they haven’t had from a head coach since Brad Scott. You have to be impressed with him in that he knows everything about his football team. I hate to do this but he’s just like (Clemson’s Dabo Swinney). You listen to Dabo and he knows everything about every player on his football team. That’s because from recruiting until the day that kid graduates, Dabo is involved with him. I think Muschamp is going to be the same way. He recruits the kids. He knows their families. He doesn’t need a sheet to read off of to talk about his players. I think that’s something South Carolina hasn’t had with the two previous head coaches who did all their great things but they were just a little bit disconnected from the recruiting standpoint and with recruiting becoming such a key to success, having a head coach who is just totally into it is a bonus, so I don’t see how he can fail. He can coach. He’s got a good coaching staff. They’re getting him the facilities and in time they’re going to get players.

CHUCK OLIVER

sports radio host, 680 The Fan in Atlanta

This would not be as much of challenge if this was 1978 when you could run up the middle three times and punt and play great defense and try to win that way, but the bottom line is that in modern day football you have to pressure teams on the perimeter and score a bunch of points. I like Deebo Samuel. I like Bryan Edwards, but they are not going to be able to pressure teams. They don’t have the talent right now to play 2016 college football. I believe the things he said he’s going to stress – toughness, discipline – I believe they will have that, but he didn’t say points anywhere in there. If you’re going to average 17 points a game, you’re probably going to win four or five games.

BRETT MCMURPHY

national college football writer, ESPN

Not good. I just don’t think the talent is there. I think Will will succeed there. I just think the first year it’s going to be a little bit tough. I don’t think that’s a reflection on his coaching skills. I think he has finally gotten it through his head that he’s got to improve offensively and do things differently offensively. He’s tried to win with defense. He did at Florida but ultimately that cost him. He’ll learn from that. Just be patient Gamecock fans.

BARRETT SALLEE

SEC lead writer, Bleacher Report

They are going to be better coached than a lot of people expect because I think Will Muschamp learned his lesson even his last year at Florida that he needs to make a few changes from an offensive standpoint. I think he from a philosophical standpoint didn’t make that in his own head at Florida, but I think he’s ready to do that at South Carolina, actually operate as a head coach with an offensive system that is up-tempo and not be ultra conservative. They’re going to be well-coached. The problem is the talent level is not there. He’s going to do fine but they are a really young team that has a pretty tough schedule that is going to go through a lot of growing pains. They may be pretty good in November. They may not be that good in September.

RICK HENRY

sports anchor, WISTV

That is a very good question and one that it seems like every Gamecock fans wants to ask me when they see me on the street or see me at the store. I tell them, ‘Don’t expect more than five or six wins.’ I like what Muschamp has done as far as bringing energy to the program and also getting out there on the recruiting trail but still he has to build up his talent level. You have the question, ‘Who is going to be the quarterback?’ I’m a little concerned about running back. Are you going to get that production you need to win games? How much better will the defense be? I think we will see some improvement but I don’t think it’s going to be good enough to where you can win the SEC East. I am going with five or six wins. Anything over that, consider that gravy and it would be an exceptional season considering the circumstances.

GREG MCELROY

college football analyst, SEC Network

I don’t have high expectations. If you look at what they have coming back, they have a couple of playmakers at quarterback believe it or not, I think they will be improved at that position whether it’s [Brandon] McIlwain or a healthy [Lorenzo] Nunez or Perry Orth. I think the quarterback is going to be really good. What I’m concerned about is they lost Pharoh Cooper. That’s a generational player, a guy that’s as good as we’ve seen at the position in some time. He accounted for so much last year. I think Deebo Samuel is talented but I’m not sure he’s ready to step into a role like that. Defensively, they lose their best player in Skai Moore. I think the future is what they are playing for. If they were to go to a bowl game this year, that would be a remarkable achievement.

JAY PHILLIPS

sports radio host, WNKT Columbia

For me, the expectation is just to show real improvement in terms of effort and attitude all season long. I think it waned in 2015 as we all saw. I would say this is a school and a program that should expect to be a in bowl game every year and rarely should they expect to be in one of the lowest tier bowls. I think they have built enough of a foundation to be a solid eight-win plus program almost all the time and every so often be able to challenge higher. For Muschamp, I have started to compare him a lot to Frank Martin in that I think there is a misunderstanding about how he runs things. I think people see the sideline histrionics and they feel that’s that guy all the time. Like Frank, those of us around here have come to learn that that’s not the case with Will and there is a genuine commitment to each of these kids. I don’t think what he did at Florida is as massive a failure as some people have made it out to be. Clearly, Florida has a different set of expectations where they demand a win in Atlanta every year in that fan base. That’s not the case in Columbia. If men like Nick Saban and Mack Brown continue to talk about Will the way they do, there is a lot to be said about that and what he has in him. It’s just got to have time to come out. I think the pressure cooker of Gainesville didn’t allow that the way it could here in Columbia, especially with a guy like Ray Tanner overseeing things.

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