We’re living in strange times ladies and gentlemen. Strange times indeed.
2016 and even here early in 2017 the world has seen a number of deaths, elections and events that have turned the world on its head. Perhaps it’s been that chain of events that’s led to football taking a backseat to basketball in Columbia.
For the first time possibly ever, the South Carolina Gamecocks have all eyes on basketball come April and not spring football. Even with the women’s basketball making the Final Four back in 2015, it still felt like the Spring football game held an almost equal level of importance for the school.
It’s nothing against the women’s basketball team, but it is a reflective commentary of where football falls in the list of priorities at South Carolina. But now with the men’s team making the Final Four — football didn’t have a choice but to take the backseat.
Even Will Muschamp conceded to the basketball team, moving the time of the game from 2:00 p.m. to noon. The SC athletic department even postponed the groundbreaking ceremony for the new football operations center and the lettermen’s flag football game.
The game itself will still be broadcast on the SEC Network and fans who aren’t near a TV can still listen on 107.5 The Game. Nevertheless it’s been pretty wild to see football part like the red sea so basketball can get their deserved shine.
The hoopla surrounding the dual Final Fours have forced coverage of the spring game into the back alley. Normally this time of year Gamecock fans can’t get enough football to fill their cheeks, but in this bizarre year that is 2017 it’s basketball giving fans their fix.
Knowing that the spring game does have a few interesting things to watch out for, and even before the basketball team hit their dream run the football team did have some notable buzz around it following a bowl year and a top-25 recruiting class.
So here are a couple of things to look out for concerning the gridiron Gamecocks at today’s game:
Front seven rotation
With Marquavius Lewis, Darius English, TJ Holloman and Jonathan Walton all gone to graduation, that leaves four key spots open on the depth chart for the Gamecock front seven.
While one would assume Skai Moore will fill one of the spots left open by Walton or Holloman, the bigger point of focus is who will start at defensive end next season. Edge rushers are all the rage in football now, and South Carolina will have to replace two of them.
Who will be in the mix? Senior Dante Sawyer is a possibility, as he’s been waiting in the wings for what feels like forever now. Even more so on that front is Shameik Blackshear, the former blue-chip RS sophomore who’s been more known for off field incidents than productive play recently.
Or what about DJ Wonnum? The true sophomore played in every game last season and could be the surprise of the spring if he can land one of the starting edge jobs. At linebacker, look for TJ Brunson or either of the FCS tranfers Mitch Langford and Hassan Belton to get in the mix.
Stability at offensive tackle
While the interior of the offensive line was solid last season for SC, it was tackle positions that caused the offense fits in a number of situations. Mason Zandi was a right tackle trying to play left, while DJ Park and Malik Young shared time at right tackle with Young eventually taking over.
Being able to protect Jake Bentley’s blindside is going to be crucial for his development and the consistency of the offense. So who would be tasked to play left tackle? It’s hard to say.
Park would be the obvious choice, but he’s never quite developed into a reliable starter and Young seems to work just fine at right tackle. Do you bump Zack Bailey out to left tackle? Or do you let fresh faces like Sadarius Hutcherson, Pike Leota and Christian Pellage compete for the spot?
The offensive line as a whole could see a lot of new movement with new OL coach Eric Wolford in charge. But tackle will be the key, seeing as Donnell Staley, Alan Knott and Corey Helms seem to have the interior locked down.
Who is the celebrity pass catcher?
Perhaps more than any other story line at the spring game, the “who’s going to catch the pass” angle stands out more than any other for Gamecocks fans.
For those who are confused, South Carolina does a traditional “receiver off the sideline” gag where a former player or Columbia-based celebrity comes off the bench unannounced to catch a touchdown for one of the teams. In the past we’ve seen Darius Rucker, Jadeveon Clowney and Melvin Ingram all participate — but who could it be this year?
We have a couple of suggestions for the Athletics Department, but feel free to comment with your pick as the celebrity pass catcher below:
- Devan Downey: The former point guard who beat John Wall’s Kentucky seems all the more appropriate considering what basketball has just accomplished?
- Tiffany Mitchell: On the flip side of the basketball argument, why not get the most decorated player in SC women’s hoops history to catch a pass?
- Mike Colter: The star of Netflix’s hit show “Luke Cage” is a Columbia native and USC grad, not to mention it’d be cool to see if he could actually run through a wall.
- Stephen Garcia: If he agrees to do it in this outfit, I believe this is a no-brainer.