Success in college athletics requires balancing talent accumulation and player development. Teams that recruit well still won't win if they are not able to help their personnel become the best versions of themselves, and teams that develop well won't be able to win if they do not bring in top-end talent. For the South Carolina football program, head coach Shane Beamer is committed to letting young talent see the field if they are ready.
According to PFF, the South Carolina Gamecocks' first-year players saw the 2nd-most snaps of any team's true freshmen. The rival Clemson Tigers are the only team in the country that had more true freshmen on the field than USC.
South Carolina football had three true freshmen that started the majority of the season. Defensive back Jalon Kilgore (who was named a Freshman All-American and Freshman All-SEC contributor), right guard Tro Baugh (who was named a Freshman All-SEC performer), and left tackle Tree Babalade all started at least 7 games.
Freshman Nyckoles Harbor started down the stretch at wide receiver, and Judge Collier got two starts at corner. Players like Tyshawn Russell (wide receiver), Djay Braswell (running back), and LaNorris Sellers (quarterback) all had roles on offense, while Pup Howard (linebacker) and Desmond Umeozulu (EDGE) played important roles in the defensive rotations. Several freshmen also saw significant time on special teams coordinator Pete Lembo's units.
In the age of the transfer portal, it is rare a feat that the Gamecocks are in line to bring back all of those contributing freshmen. The portal is still open, and it opens again after spring practice, so that could change. However, for now, none of those first-year players have announced any plans to leave the South Carolina football program.
In fact, the only true freshman slated to leave the team at this point is defensive tackle Xzavier McLeod who was dismissed from the team back in October.
If the Gamecock coaching staff continues to develop these young players, they continue to recruit well (top-20 2024 class in both total ranking and average recruit ranking), and they continue to have success bringing in veterans through the transfer portal (6 announced commitments so far this cycle from likely impact players and two more teased commitments from Coach Shane Beamer), then the Gamecocks will be a program on the rise in the SEC.