ESPN doesn’t see South Carolina football winning 5 games next year.
South Carolina has won just six games over the last two years, experiencing the program’s worst campaign of the 21st century in Will Muschamp’s final season. Since the disappointing 2-8 stint, Gamecock football has been in flux, having hired a new staff, lost a number of players through the transfer portal, and brought in a handful of replacements.
Shane Beamer will do his best to right the ship in his first season on the sidelines, as he attempts to change the culture in Columbia. Getting the program back on track will be no easy task, as the Gamecocks will likely be considered a cellar dweller in the SEC’s Eastern Division.
Beamer and Co. got their first glimpse of this with ESPN’s recent release of projected win totals for the 2021 season. The site uses its own FPI formula to make these predictions, with an algorithm that takes into account a team’s strengths (returning players, past performance, recruiting, etc.) and compares that to the opponents on its schedule.
ESPN has set the bar low for the Gamecocks in Beamer’s first year.
South Carolina is only projected to win 4.5 games, the second lowest mark in the conference ahead of just Vanderbilt. This roughly translates to either a 4-8 or 5-7 record for 2021. Some interesting things of note:
- The Gamecocks have the 16th hardest schedule in America, according to the FPI. South Carolina will face five team that will likely be ranked in the preseason top 20.
- ESPN gives South Carolina just a 22% chance of winning six games and earning bowl eligibility
- The Gamecocks’ FPI rank is 68th out of a possible 130 NCAA teams. They also rank 54th out of 65 Power Five programs.
Though the slate is tough, I would take the over at 4.5 wins if I were a betting man. The Gamecocks’ non-conference schedule is much lighter than it has been in past seasons. There’s Clemson, but no matchups with North Carolina or NC State like we’ve seen in years past. Instead, South Carolina takes on Eastern Illinois, East Carolina, and Troy in what should, theoretically, be three wins. Add in a home meeting with Vanderbilt and toss up games against Kentucky, Tennessee, and Missouri, and the path to five wins isn’t too far-fetched.
The Gamecocks do have some returning pieces to lean on, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. Running back Kevin Harris returns after winning the conference’s regular season rushing crown. He’ll be joined by five-star tailback MarShawn Lloyd and scat back ZaQuandre White.
Quarterback Luke Doty also returns for a second season after starting the team’s final two games of 2020. Though both were losses, he showed flashes of athleticism and is primed to be the starter come Fall. Wideouts are a question mark, but a strong tight end group should help out its signal caller in the passing game.
On defense, the team could experience some growing pains, but they should be stout up front. Jordan Burch, JJ Enagbare, Aaron Sterling, Zacch Pickens, Rick Sandidge, and Tonka Hemingway all return after seeing action in 2020. Enagbare and Burch, in particular, should make life difficult on opposing quarterbacks. There are concerns on the backend, but hopefully a strong pass rush will mitigate them to an extent.
South Carolina is currently in the midst of spring practice, and will hold its annual Spring Game next weekend. The Gamecocks will then turn their attention to the regular season as they gear up for an opening day kickoff versus Eastern Illinois in Williams Brice Stadium.