The South Carolina Gamecocks had their spring game this past weekend. With that behind them, now they will focus on summer workouts leading up to fall camp. Building a football program up to the point of sustainable success is a multi-faceted process. Coach Will Muschamp has taken significant strides in Columbia in his first two seasons in charge. There is still a long way to go for this program. Muschamp often speaks of his team’s two main goals, win the SEC East and win the state. Last season both the SEC East rival Georgia Bulldogs and the in-state antagonist Clemson Tigers were in the College Football Playoffs. This means two things; first, the bar for his team’s goals is set very high, and, second, if they can achieve it they will be in line for even bigger goals.
The Gamecocks have improved their win total by three games in each of Will Muschamp’s two seasons. They were 3-9 the season before he arrived, and have won six and nine games, respectively, in the two seasons since. While their progression has been steady, there is still a long way to go to catch up with the elite programs in the SEC. Building a team or program to those levels is a process and there are multiple stages in which this process can be measured.
The Gamecocks are ahead of schedule in this regard. There weren’t any national pundits predicting nine wins for the 2017 team. However, after an Outback Bowl victory over the Michigan Wolverines, that is where South Carolina ended up. Last year’s team was not always pretty to watch, but they often found a way to win. Victories over Louisian Tech, Tennessee, Florida, and the comeback over Michigan were at times painful to witness. However, they also showcased the team’s toughness and mental fortitude. Winning games when you are not playing your best is often a sign of a winning mentality. Will Muschamp and his team still have a ways to go in terms of consistently playing at their highest level, but they have at least shown they can find ways to win even when they are not.
Depth and Recruiting
Everyone in the college football world knows that recruiting is the life blood of a program. It is widely known in football circles that Will Muschamp is a relentless recruiter. When he arrived in Columbia, the cupboard was pretty bare. So much so that last season the Gamecocks only had 59 scholarship players. That number was reduced more by the fact that South Carolina had several key injuries throughout the season. The recruiting profile is getting better; Will Muschamp’s most recent class being his best yet. With the majority of contributors being underclassmen in each of his first two seasons, the improvement in win totals shows he is bringing in the right players.
The front line of talent at South Carolina is solid. The 2018 team will be as experienced as it has been in several years. Now the task is building the depth of the roster. Ideally, Muschamp would like to develop young players to rotate into games, and not have to rely on them to produce right away. Will Muschamp has also lamented on the lack of team speed since he took over, but he has also been able to upgrade the team in that area. During the spring a few of the older players remarked on the difference between this current roster’s amount of speed and athleticism as opposed to just a few seasons ago.
No matter how good you get, the importance of recruiting never diminishes. Building depth and stock piling talent is the key to sustainable success. While most of the offensive players return from last season, the Gamecocks did lose a solid core of defensive seniors. Replacing their production on the defensive side of the ball will be a top priority.
Once a winning culture and the proper depth of talent has been established, a program can find its footing and build toward sustained success. To make the jump from solid winning seasons to contending for championships, the next ingredient is usually star power. Consistency, depth, and attitude will only take you so far before the need for superior talent will arise. The Gamecocks have had multiple young players show their potential in the last two years, but know it’s time to see them take the next step.
Quarterback Jake Bentley has done some good things in garnet and black during his two seasons. However, he still has another level to reach if he is to lead this team to championship contending status. The Gamecocks have adjusted their offense this off season. Bentley appears to be more comfortable with the increased tempo and aggressiveness they have implemented in spring practice. His consistency in terms of accuracy and decision making are still works-in-progress. The junior will need to raise his game if he wants to be the star this team needs to lead them. Receiver Deebo Samuel was well on his way to becoming a national star before injuries derailed his season. If he can regain the same form from early 2017, the Gamecocks will have one of the most explosive play makers in America.
One of the final pieces to building your program is the ability to handle the success you attain. No one expected much from the Gamecocks last season, with their nine wins coming as a surprise to most. Expectations and pressure will be much different entering the 2018 campaign. How Will Muschamp and his team handle these raised expectations will go a long way in showing how well this program is being built. It’s one thing to win games when few people expect it of you, but when the pressure to win is heavy, it can be totally different.
South Carolina didn’t handle raised expectations very well last season. After starting 2-0, they went into their home opener with Kentucky with a level of real excitement. This young team preceded to fall flat and lose to the Wildcats in a poor effort. They were, however, able to rebound well from that disappointment and still have a solid season. This team must prove it can perform when the weight of expectations is on their shoulders. The Gamecocks will be looked at by some to possibly contend with Georgia in the SEC East. They should be in or around the Top 25 most of the season. Performing well when people expect you too will be the next step for this growing team.
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