Photo courtesy of South Carolina athletics
Feel that heat coming from the capital of South Carolina and the University of South Carolina? That’s nothing more than the ever-growing hot seat that sits under head football coach Will Muschamp and staff.
Ever since taking over the post in 2016, the hype and hopefulness of results have resonated throughout the seats of Williams-Brice Stadium and Columbia in bunches. Despite the hype, most of which has been well-deserved, South Carolina has seen opportunities to grow as a football program leave in exponential force.
In Muschamp’s 51 games in charge of South Carolina, the Gamecocks have won just 26 of them. The Gamecocks have won just one bowl game, the 2017 Outback Bowl, and failed to defeat arch-rival Clemson in any of their annual match-ups.
The lack of success, especially against Clemson and in bowl games, has led to a growing belief that Muschamp’s time in Columbia may soon come to an end if results do not quickly change.
Recruiting and Development
Although South Carolina has never been a consistent recruiting powerhouse, the team has maintained a solid recruiting base. While competition for the area’s top recruits is strong with Clemson, the Gamecocks have had their fair share of talent.
Since taking over in 2016, Muschamp’s recruiting classes have always landed near the middle of the pack in the SEC. South Carolina’s 2020 class, for example, placed 18th in the nation and eighth in the SEC, according to the 247Sports Composite. In 2019, South Carolina’s class, headlined by quarterback Ryan Hilinski and defensive tackle Zacch Pickens, finished 21st nationally and eighth in the SEC.
Despite the success of recruiting, the Gamecocks have mostly failed to develop a level of consistent talent both at the college level and in the NFL.
Although the praise was high for quarterback Brandon McIlwain, the Gamecocks’ highest-rated player in Muschamp’s first recruiting class, the results failed to materialize in Columbia. After losing the starting job to fellow freshman Jake Bentley, McIlwain transferred to California. In 2019, McIlwain ended his football career early, choosing to pursue a career in baseball instead. In the 2019 Major League Baseball Draft, the Miami Marlins selected McIlwain in the 26th round.
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Although Bentley captured the starting job from McIlwain, the results had been a mixed bag for him. Before transferring to Utah following last season, Bentley served as the team’s starting quarterback since 2016. Bentley finished his South Carolina career completing 62 percent of his passes for 7,572 yards and a 55-to-32 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Bentley transferred after the 2019 season.
The Gamecocks’ top recruit in 2017 has also left Columbia for another program. Ranked as the eighth-best cornerback in his class, Jamyest Williams committed to South Carolina over Georgia, Oklahoma, and Alabama. After injuries mostly derailed a promising South Carolina career, Williams transferred to Georgia Southern in December 2019.
In spite of some of the program’s failure to develop talent, promise has been shown by some recruits over Muschamp’s time in charge. In the 2020 NFL Draft alone, four Gamecocks recruited by Muschamp heard their names called.
Defensive lineman Javon Kinlaw (2017) led the way. He was selected with the 14th overall pick by the San Francisco 49ers. Class of 2016 recruits Bryan Edwards and D.J. Wonnum heard their names called in the third and fourth rounds, respectively. The New York Giants later selected linebacker T.J. Brunson (2016) in the seventh round.
Although 2019 draft pick Deebo Samuel was not a part of a Muschamp signing class, the development is still in large part because of his staff. The 49ers saw an immediate impact from Samuel after selecting him in the second round. Samuel finished his rookie season with 961 yards of scrimmage (802 receiving, 159 rushing) and six total touchdowns.
On the current South Carolina roster, the returns for quarterback Tyler Hilinski and defensive tackle Zacch Pickens are promising. Pickens was named to the Freshman All-SEC team, while Hilinkski earned the starting job as the team’s quarterback.
If the expectations were not high in the past, they are now. Muschamp and the Gamecocks need instant results. South Carolina plays in an SEC East that is regarded as the weaker of the conference’s two divisions.
After finishing with just four wins last season, Muschamp will likely have to will the Gamecocks to seven wins and a bowl game or an eight-win season.
Although the Gamecocks will travel to Clemson, the rest of the team’s out-of-conference schedule should yield promising results. Coastal Carolina, East Carolina, and Wofford are all home games for South Carolina. Those are contests the the Gamecocks should win when you consider the talent gap.
In the conference, the Gamecocks will see their usual opponents from the SEC East and Texas A&M. Along with the Aggies, the Gamecocks will travel to LSU from the SEC West.
The results for South Carolina have to come and they have to come soon. Without them, the Gamecocks will be back on the market for a new leader.