South Carolina returns a plethora of talent to the 2018 roster, including 99.1% of its scoring from 2017. The defensive side of the ball returns six starters, but loses top tackler Skai Moore.
Today, we project what the Gamecocks two-deep depth chart will look like leading up to the season opener against Coastal Carolina on September 1.
There’s no surprises here as Jake Bentley will return for his third season as the Gamecocks starting quarterback. Bentley will look to have his best season in garnet and black under new offensive coordinator Bryan McClendon and quarterback coach Dan Werner.
Scarnecchia provides a solid back-up option and can make all the throws, but the most intriguing storyline leading into the season surrounds freshman Dakereon Joyner. With the new redshirt rule in place, Joyner will be able to play in up to four games and still be eligible for a redshirt. This means South Carolina fans could see specific packages that highlight Joyner’s athleticism this season. If nothing else, the youngster should see time against the Gamecocks’ out of conference opponents.
Running back should be one of the more intriguing position groups for the Gamecocks this season. Loaded with talent, position coach Bobby Bentley used a “running back by committee” approach in 2017. While he may not be the most physically gifted, A.J. Turner has been the most consistent of the three.
Rico Dowdle had a fantastic game in the Outback Bowl against Michigan after missing most of the season with a leg injury, and Ty’son Williams should get more carries in 2018 as arguably the most talented of the three. Williams showed plenty flashes of what he can do last season, including this 35-yard touchdown run against Louisiana Tech:
Arguably the most electric play-maker in the SEC is returning for a final season. Deebo Samuel did it all for the Gamecocks a year ago, racking up kickoff return, rushing and receiving touchdowns. Although Samuel only played three weeks in 2017, he finished the year tied for the team lead in touchdowns with six. The biggest question mark will be if he can stay healthy for the entirety of the 2018 season.
Sophomore Ortre Smith returns after a solid freshman year and will be on the field in South Carolina’s four and five wide receiver looks.
- Bryan Edwards, Junior
- Chad Terrell, Sophomore
Bryan Edwards may be one of the most underrated receivers in the country. Built similarly to former Gamecock great Alshon Jeffery, Edwards will look to have his best year yet as a Gamecock in 2018.
Sophomore Chad Terrell returns to the lineup after suffering an ACL tear that sidelined him for all of spring practice. If he can come back fully healthy, Terrell provides a ton of upside and could be a solid option behind Edwards.
- Shi Smith, Sophomore
- Josh Vann, Freshman
Sophomore Shi Smith returns after a fantastic freshman year. Smith impressed last year in fall camp, which earned him a starting role in his first collegiate football game. Smith made the most of his opportunities, finishing 2017 with 29 catches for 409 yards and three touchdowns. More impressively, he didn’t drop a pass all of last year.
While there may be Gamecocks receivers with more experience, I don’t believe there are many with the talent that freshman Josh Vann will bring to the table. Look for Vann to break the two-deep early and have a similar role to that of Smith’s in 2017. It would not be surprising to see Vann have a game-changing touchdown at some point in the season.
How does one replace Hayden Hurst? A group of South Carolina tight ends will attempt to answer that question this fall. Jacob August returns for his senior year after being a solid option for the Gamecocks his first three seasons.
However, the difference maker at this position could be K.C. Crosby, a versatile player who was under-utilized under previous offensive coordinator Kurt Roper.
While he doesn’t make the projected two-deep, do not be surprised if two-sport star Evan Hinson plays meaningful snaps for the Gamecocks this year. Hinson has the size, strength and athletic ability to be a top-tier tight end in the SEC.
- Dennis Daley, Senior
- Maxwell Iyama, Freshman
Arguably the most important position on offense not named quarterback, Dennis Daley projects to be the Gamecocks’ starting left tackle on opening day. Daley grabbed hold of the starting position in the middle of 2017 and never looked back. Behind him is one of the Gamecocks’ most talented recruits of the 2018 class, freshman Maxwell Iyama.
- Zach Bailey, Senior
- Chandler Farrell, RS Sophomore
The Gamecocks got a huge boost when senior Zach Bailey decided to return for his final year of eligibility. After starting at right tackle for all of 2017, Bailey will slide back to his natural position at left guard.
Chandler Farrell was the second-team left guard in the spring but could be challenged by a number of younger Gamecocks for playing time.
- Donell Stanley, RS Junior
- Hank Manos, Freshman
This may be the most important position change that nobody is talking about. Gone is veteran center Alan Knott, and all of Donell Stanley’s starts from a year ago came at the guard position. However, coaches seem high on Stanely’s ability to play the center position.
Freshman Hank Manos turned heads in spring practice and was one of the Gamecocks’ highest-rated recruits in the 2018 class. Center will be a position to keep an eye on through fall practice and the beginning of the season.
- Sadarius Hutcherson, RS Sophomore
- Jordan Rhodes, RS Freshman
Sadarius Hutcherson returns as one of the youngest key pieces on the offensive line. Hutcherson gained valuable experience last year as a redshirt freshman and is projected by some to be an All-SEC caliber player in 2018.
Jordan Rhodes was recruited as a right tackle but worked as the second-team guard in the spring game. Due to the youth at the position, this is an area Gamecock fans should keep a close eye on.
- Blake Camper, Senior
- Eric Douglas, RS Freshman
Senior Blake Camper returns after being a reliable option for the Gamecocks a year ago. Eric Douglas was the second-team right tackle during the spring and should be a solid back-up behind Camper. The wild card in this scenario is Malik Young, who sat out all of spring with an injury. Young began the 2017 season starting at left tackle and could shake up the two-deep if he comes back fully healthy.
- D.J. Wonnum, Junior
- Brad Johnson, Sophomore
D.J. Wonnum returns after being named 3rd Team All-SEC a year ago. Wonnum has a knack for the ball and should be one of the top players on the Gamecocks defense this fall. Behind him is Brad Johnson, one of the top recruits from Will Muschamp’s inaugural recruiting class. Look for Johnson to pick up multiple sacks this season and be a weapon rushing the quarterback for Travaris Robinson.
- Shameik Blackshear, RS Junior
- Aaron Sterling, Sophomore
After a much-maligned career, Shameik Blackshear will look to have a breakout season this fall. Blackshear was once expected to fill the void left after Jadeveon Clowney’s departure in 2013. While his career hasn’t exactly gone to plan, Blackshear has the physical tools and is poised for a strong season in 2018. Behind him is Aaron Sterling, who was effective in limited time as a freshman and could be one of the most exciting players to watch this fall.
- Javon Kinlaw, Junior
- Rick Sandidge, Freshman
Arguably the most beloved Gamecocks defender, Javon Kinlaw returns in 2018 bigger and better than ever. While Kinlaw spent most of 2017 getting in shape and adjusting to SEC football, his impact was still felt often. Kinlaw should establish himself this season as one of the best defensive tackles in the country. One of the most important pieces of the 2018 recruiting class backs him up in Concord High School product Rick Sandidge.
While he spent most of his time on the edge in 2017, Keir Thomas is expected to fill the other starting defensive tackle position. Thomas has bulked up, gaining nearly 20 pounds during spring and summer conditioning.
Junior Kobe Smith was solid in limited action a year ago and is poised to see a ton of action this fall.
Similar to Deebo Samuel, senior Bryson Allen-Williams returns after suffering a season-ending injury early in 2017. Behind him is Danny Fennell, a redshirt junior who showed great instincts at the linebacker position a year ago.
- T.J. Brunson, Junior
- Rosendo Louis, Freshman
Gone is South Carolina’s quarterback of the defense. Following the departure of four-year starter Skai Moore, that title is now handed off to junior T.J. Brunson, the man who finished second behind Moore in total tackles a year ago. Freshman Rosendo Louis should see a ample playing time this season and provide a pop in the middle of the South Carolina defense.
- Sherrod Greene, Sophomore
- Eldridge Thompson, Senior
Sophomore Sherrod Greene returns after a successful freshman campaign. Greene provides another physical presence and is fantastic at the point of attack. Senior Eldridge Thompson looks poised to have a breakout year. After transferring to South Carolina prior to the 2017 season, Thompson gained over 20 pounds this offseason, which should help him be more suited to the position this fall.
- Rashad Fenton, Senior
- Israel Mukuamu, Freshman
Rashad Fenton was arguably the best cornerback in the SEC for the first eight weeks of the 2017 season. After having a sub-par finish to the year, Fenton hopes to prove he’s one of the best in the country.
Highly-touted freshman Israel Mukuamu will look to make a splash in his first season in garnet and black. With his massive 6-4 frame, Mukuamu has received praise from defensive coordinator Travaris Robinson for his physicality at the position. Expect big things from #24.
- Keisean Nixon, Senior
- Nick Harvey, Senior
Keisean Nixon will move inside for his final season of college football after a successful first year in Columbia. Nixon is a versatile player and can start at nearly every position in the secondary. Nick Harvey, an incoming transfer from Texas A&M, will likely push for starting minutes at several positions. Whether he starts or not, Harvey will see plenty of playing time this fall across the secondary.
- Steven Montac, Senior
- J.T. Ibe, Senior
Steven Montac returns as one of the most underrated players on the Gamecocks roster. Montac made his presence felt multiple times last season, including a crushing hit that set the tone defensively in the Gamecocks’ 48-22 win over Arkansas last fall. Rice transfer J.T. Ibe provides a solid option behind Montac and could find himself in a starting role in the Gamecocks secondary eventually.
- Jamyest Williams, Sophomore
- Jaylin Dickerson, RS Freshman
Jamyest Williams moves to a more natural position at free safety. After starting at the nickel from day one his freshman season, Williams looks poised to be the ball-hawking safety the Gamecocks have been lacking for quite some time.
Jaylin Dickerson is the wild card in this situation. Injuries have hampered his short career in Columbia, but of he can be fully healthy by September 1, Dickerson could become one of the best players on the Gamecocks defense.
- Shane Hynes, Senior
- Parker White, Sophomore
Simply put, the kicking game was abysmal a year ago, so in comes Kent State transfer Shane Hynes. While there will be a battle for kicking duties, the nod has to go to Hynes after Parker White struggled to make anything beyond 40 yards.
Junior Josesph Charlton was one of the bigger surprises in regards to special teams a year ago. Charlton averaged 43.5 yards per punt and gave the Gamecocks a valuable weapon in regards to flipping field position.