With kickoff just six days away at the time of this writing, the Gamecocks are full speed ahead in planning for their season opener against Vanderbilt on September 1. While Will Muschamp is keeping mum on arguably the most important position, quarterback, he’s been more explicit about who will see the field at other spots. Ahead of the official depth chart being released soon, here’s a projection of who will get the call on Thursday.
Quarterback: Perry Orth OR Brandon McIlwain
I’ve had a change of heart in this department. I think Orth starts (purely from an experience standpoint), but it will be purely for administrative purposes, if you will. BMac will get a good chunk of time as I believe that it’s a no-brainer to send him on the field right away with how he has performed during camp. It won’t be a popular choice to start Orth as several fans have their minds made up, but on the other side of the coin, depending on how things go for either player in Nashville on Thursday will determine who gets the lion’s share of PT at Mississippi State moving forward (and maybe even during the Vandy game).
Running back: A.J. Turner
I’m putting A.J. here since, like at quarterback, the staff will measure how things go from game to game. I expect maybe a 60:40 split between him and Dave Williams, but again, depending on how things develop at Vandy, that might shift to about 70:30 in Starkville in Week 2. It would have been nice to have Rico Dowdle and Mon Denson available as I think they would have been good short yardage/third down options. That very well could be later in the season depending on how quickly they recover as Bobby Bentley has said that they’ll use Dowdle throughout the year, which, as I’ve mentioned, speaks volumes about how he has performed in the preseason versus being a potential redshirt candidate.
Wide Receivers: Bryan Edwards, Deebo Samuel, Jamari Smith
Edwards and Samuel should be the featured WRs this season - Samuel from an experience standpoint and Edwards based on his overall talent level and what he can bring to the table. While Smith will be WR3, I’d expect to see guys like Hayden Hurst and K.C. Crosby at TE (more on them in a moment) factor into the receiving game as well. I’m looking forward to seeing Kurt Roper mix in some deep attacks to play to Edwards’ strengths.
Tight Ends: Hayden Hurst OR K.C. Crosby
Will Muschamp could pretty much flip a coin to see who starts here. From what he and the staff have said about both players, both have had solid camps and should be able to contribute in a big way - primarily in the receiving game, but in a more traditional TE role as the season progresses.
Offensive Line: Mason Zandi (LT), Zack Bailey (LG), Cory Helms (C), Donell Stanley (RG), D.J. Park (RT)
I’m putting Helms instead of Alan Knott at center due to the latter’s injury, but I think Knott comes off the bench at Vandy as the staff looks to ease him in. The good news here is that Helms’ experience at right guard should allow him to simply move over when Knott returns. Moving forward, I’d count on this as the primary OL scenario.
Defensive Line: Qua Lewis (DE), Kelsey Griffin (DT), Taylor Stallworth (DT), Dante Sawyer (DE)
Muschamp shook things up a little as Sawyer, previously a LB, will move up to the line. While the attention will be on the secondary and the QB position, DL will be very key, because as we know, the Gamecocks haven’t had much of a pass rush in recent years. Hopefully adding Sawyer to the equation will get things moving in the right direction for this unit. Having said that, even though these may be the Day 1 starters, DL coach Lance Thompson will be rotating guys in and out, so Keir Thomas, Darius English, Ulric Jones and Abu Lamin should see time as well.
Linebackers: Bryson Allen-Williams (SAM), Jonathan Walton (MIKE), T.J. Holloman (WILL)
The LB corps already took a hit thanks to Skai Moore’s injury and took even more of a hit with the loss of Larenz Bryant for at least the Vandy game, but what sounds like longer from what Muschamp’s been saying. I’m expecting Allen-Williams to take on the leadership mantle and guide this unit - and this defense throughout the season while Moore recovers and prepares for a return in 2017.
The Gamecocks will be implementing the BUCK in their defense, and it looks like it will be a rotation of players at this spot. Allen-Williams, English, Daniel Fennell and Boosie Whitlow have been practicing there throughout camp, and with Allen-Williams projected as the starter at SAM and English slated in the DE rotation, it will probably be a matter of lining them up front to give the defense a 4-2-5 look in pass rush situations.
Secondary: Rico McWilliams and Mark King (cornerbacks), Rashad Fenton (nickel), Chaz Elder and D.J. Smith (safeties)
I could write several paragraphs about how the secondary performed (or failed to) last season, but we’ve been down that road already. Muschamp has said that Fenton, Lammons, King and McWilliams will be the top four corners, so although they’ll name official starters, Travaris Robinson will be rotating heavily to adjust to different scenarios. King’s experience means that he won’t require a ton of on-the-job training as he’s proven himself in the JUCO ranks, but we’ll see how that translates into the SEC where he’ll probably be tasked with lining up across from each opponent’s top receiver (a big test will be Mississippi State’s Fred Ross in week two).