South Carolina football: ESPN releases SEC preview

South Carolina football was mentioned a few times in ESPN’s recent SEC preview.

South Carolina is set to begin its college football season in a few short weeks, when they’ll battle the Tennessee Volunteers on September 26th in Williams-Brice Stadium. As the SEC’s opening week creeps closer, ESPN decided to release a preview of whom it thinks will be the league’s best coaches, players, and games.

South Carolina was twice mentioned in the preview.

The first mention was a negative, as ESPN listed Will Muschamp as its ‘Coach on the hot seat’ in 2020. His team is looking to recover from a disappointing 4-8 season in 2019, the worst since Muschamp’s arrival in Columbia. The head coach is now entering year five with the Gamecocks.

It’s not surprising to see Muschamp listed, though there are certainly others that could’ve been placed ahead of the Gamecock head coach (looking at you, Derek Mason).

In his first four seasons, Muschamp’s teams have gone 26-25 (15-17 in SEC play). The 2020 slate consists of ten conference opponents, with six of the Gamecocks’ foes being ranked in the Associated Press’s preseason top 25. It’s been rated the fourth most difficult schedule in the nation.

If things go south quickly, Muschamp’s job could be in jeopardy. Personally, though, I think he’s got at least another year of security. Time will tell as the season unfolds.

The second mention was a positive, though, as the site predicts that South Carolina will upend Texas A&M for the first time in program history. The Aggies have gotten the best of the Gamecocks in each of their six meetings since Texas A&M’s joining the SEC.

The upset would certainly come as a shock, with Jimbo Fisher bringing back the most experienced team in the conference. Led by quarterback Kellen Mond, the squad returns 77% of its production from 2019. ESPN has Texas A&M finishing second, behind only projected conference champion Alabama, in the SEC’s western division. The Aggies won last year’s matchup over South Carolina 30-6 in College Station but the Gamecocks will look to avenge that loss in October.

Below is ESPN’s complete SEC preview.

SEC standings:

EAST

  1. Georgia
  2. Florida
  3. Tennessee
  4. Kentucky
  5. South Carolina
  6. Missouri
  7. Vanderbilt

WEST

  1. Alabama
  2. Texas A&M
  3. LSU
  4. Auburn
  5. Mississippi State
  6. Ole Miss
  7. Arkansas

SEC champion: Alabama

Offensive player of the year: Najee Harris, RB, Alabama
Defensive player of the year: Dylan Moses, LB, Alabama

Offensive freshman of the year: Arik Gilbert, TE, LSU
Defensive freshman of the year: Jaylon Jones, CB, Texas A&M

Comeback player of the year: Terry Wilson, QB, Kentucky

Best offensive transfer: JT Daniels, QB, Georgia (via USC)
Best defensive transfer: Jabril Cox, OLB, LSU (via North Dakota State)

Coach of the year: Ed Orgeron, LSU
Coach on the hot seat: Will Muschamp, South Carolina
Coordinator on the rise: Dan Lanning, defensive coordinator, Georgia

Game of the year: Florida vs. Georgia, Nov. 7
Nonconference game of the year: SEC is playing conference games only
Upset of the year: South Carolina over Texas A&M, Nov. 7

Three predictions for the SEC

1. Two SEC teams make the CFP:

With the Big Ten and Pac-12 punting to later this fall or next spring, there’s an open spot for a potential second SEC team to reach the CFP. Because it’s playing Alabama on the road, Georgia would probably have to win in Tuscaloosa or avenge that loss in the SEC championship game. If the Bulldogs were to drop two games to the Crimson Tide, Florida could sneak its way into the CFP without winning the SEC East. And of course, the No. 2 SEC West team would be a candidate if the SEC East teams falter.

2. LSU takes a big step back: 

The defending national champions already were facing a steep uphill climb in replacing Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow and a dozen other players selected in April’s NFL draft — along with Aranda, who left for Baylor, and passing game coordinator Joe Brady, who departed for the Carolina Panthers. Then star receiver Ja’Marr Chase, defensive tackle Tyler Shelvin and two other players opted out. That’s too much turnover to stay in front of Alabama — or maybe even Texas A&M — for a second straight season.

3. Georgia wins the SEC East:

With quarterback Jake Fromm and four starting offensive linemen departing, Florida believes it has closed the gap on Georgia. Not so fast. Kirby Smart looks pretty … well, smart after signing former Southern California quarterback JT Daniels as a security blanket in May. Expected starter Jamie Newman, a graduate transfer from Wake Forest, opted out last week. The Bulldogs have recruited offensive linemen as well as any team in the FBS, and wide receiver George Pickens is back after a stellar freshman campaign. Georgia’s defense should be as good as it was a year ago, and if the Bulldogs get anything more from their sputtering offense under new coordinator Todd Monken, they will beat the Gators in Jacksonville and win their fourth straight SEC East title.

Next: Gamecock football: 5 bold predictions for 2020