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Let’s talk about Will Muschamp and the future of Gamecock football

There’s a lot to unpack here.

Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Look, y’all already know what’s going on ‘round here. The Appalachian State loss has been mourned, raged about, and dissected more ways than we can count at this point, and it’s arguably emotional cutting to continue talking about it. At this stage, it’s most tempting to respond to said loss with a sense of comfortable numbness, and what’s the worst thing a fan can do about their sports team? Not care.

So what I am interested in discussing is Will Muschamp, and more specifically, his future with the Gamecocks program. His continued employment through the 2020 season has been a running assumption and seems to be the current reality we’re living in, so I’d like to take a little stream-of-consciousness examination of the reasons to keep him.

But the schedule

This is probably the single biggest reason to assume Muschamp’s safety. South Carolina’s 2019 schedule, depending on where you looked, was ranked either the hardest slate in the country or somewhere in the top three before the season even began. And make no mistake — even with, say, 2013’s roster, this would be a grueling experience and not for the faint of heart.

But speaking of scheduling...

Can we please start thinking about doing ourselves some favors here? Take a look at our friends in Raleigh, who sport a similar football pedigree as the Gamecocks. N.C. State tends to play a couple smaller in-state schools a year, much like South Carolina does, and then rolls with the Ball States and Marshalls of the world to fill out the rest of those slots. Granted, with Clemson in the picture, the Gamecocks will always have one out-of-conference game against the Power 5 — but they just don’t have to go out their way to add another ACC school or choking hazard “cupcakes” like Appalachian State. Not every year, at least.

Now, does that sound craven on my part? Yeah, probably, but what’s the material benefit here? Much like N.C. State, South Carolina is absolutely nowhere close to competing for a playoff spot, so strength of schedule isn’t a consideration worth taking seriously. I’m sure some fans will be salty about home games against random Group of 5 squads, but those games will help this team win, reach bowl games, and otherwise just not look like trash while it (hopefully) builds a program capable of competing for the SEC East again. What’s the more important and enjoyable variable here?

Also, injuries

When the criticism starts to pour in, many fans and observers point to just how banged up this team is. While that’s an undeniable fact, it’s an excuse that starts to wear a little thin when it feels like Muschamp’s teams are always banged up. For those with short memories, his Florida squads were often ravaged by injuries too, and I simply refuse to believe that the players he recruits have glass for bones and ligaments. I’m no expert (shocking, right?), but it sure seems like something is rotten in Denmark when it comes to the strength and conditioning program under his leadership. If he’s going to stick around into 2020, this is a staffing change that needs to be strongly considered, and the way practices are conducted should probably be given a long look as well.

What about recruiting?

I mean, what about it? This is another old chestnut that gets trotted out when a college program is weighing whether to fire its coach. The conventional wisdom is that it’s best to be patient for continuity purposes, and not scare off any potentially program-changing talent that is attached to the current coach. But here’s the thing: Players are going to transfer. It’s just a fact of life, particularly now that the NCAA has relaxed its rules in that regard. More to the point, Muschamp hasn’t shown much of his ballyhooed ability to reel in studs — the Gamecocks’ 2020 class is currently ranked 19th by 247Sports, and last year’s class was his best at 17th. While this isn’t horrible, it’s been consistent with South Carolina’s typical recruiting trends. This was supposed to be an area of expertise for Muschamp and his staff, and while it’s obviously difficult recruiting against other SEC schools and a rival powerhouse that sprung up in your backyard, I’m just not seeing a strong argument here.

And finally, dat buyout

If it’s been mentioned once, it’s been mentioned a thousand times: Will Muschamp has a mind-bogglingly high $18 million buyout that no one but athletic director Ray Tanner understands. While letting him go at this stage would be punitive for the university and is another very compelling reason to keep him another year, where’s there’s a will, there’s a way: Florida State just jettisoned Willie Taggart, a move that carried its own $18 million price tag. While FSU is a former football power and has deeper pockets than USC, there’s always money to be found when it’s time to make these decisions. I just don’t think USC feels like making this decision right now.

That being said...

This nugget from The Greenville News surfaced earlier today, and is no doubt fueling many a rumor and fever dream fantasy for Gamecocks fans:

In contrast to what have been unambiguously supportive comments from Tanner, President Caslen’s remarks here are rather...lukewarm, and seem to leave the door open for reflection once the season’s over. I still think it’s more likely than not that Muschamp returns in 2020, but if the Gamecocks look uninterested and uncompetitive in their final two games — to say nothing if Clemson leaves Columbia a smoking crater — that might change the equation a bit.