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The future of South Carolina football: What can we look for in the next five years?

Our co-managers peel back the clouds and tell you what the state of Gamecocks football will be exactly five years from now. (OK, maybe it’s speculation, but we give it a crack anyway.)

Western Carolina v South Carolina Photo by Todd Bennett/GettyImages

Sydney: Hello, faithful GABA readers. With things less than ideal with the baseball team (they aren’t very good), we can probably break things up and talk a little about football - I guess. Although no Gamecocks got taken in the NFL Draft, a few have signed undrafted free agent deals, so that’s some good news on that front. As far as on the field, it’s still 124 days (at the time of this writing) until the Gamecocks take on the N.C. State Wolfpack up in the Queen City of Charlotte.

But we’re not going to talk about next to speak. Instead, Chris and I are going to take you on a ride into the future: 2022, to be exact. That seems a long way off, doesn’t it, Chris?

Chris: I will be 30 in 2022, which is a terrifying thought in itself. Personally, it seems like forever. I can’t visualize two years ahead of my future, let alone five.

Five years ago, South Carolina was coming off their first 11-win season ever and were getting ready to have what I believe was the best season in school history in 2012. Had you told me in 2012 that five years later, Will Muschamp would be SC’s head coach and Steve Spurrier would be back at Florida, I would have made you pee in a cup. So in short, yes — it does seem like a long way off.

Sydney: I will be two years short of that magic number that’s ten years less than 50 in 2022, but...well, let me change the subject before the gravity of that fact fully sinks in.

You bring up a good overarching point: so much in the college football landscape can change in as little as five years. (Unless, of course, you’re Alabama and still winning championships.) Unfortunately, here at South Carolina, instead of a progression of what Steve Spurrier built, we’ve seen a decline - notably in the recruiting department - for reasons we’ve discussed numerous times here.

I guess that leads to the first thing I feel (probably leaning more on the hope side on this one) that the Gamecocks are doing in five years: legitimately competing for top recruits and winning those recruiting battles on a regular basis. Losing Xavier Thomas (and I’m not going to get into the why of it) was a big blow to what could have been a banner 2018 class, but moving forward, I don’t think it’s too much to ask to have this program being in the hunt for a good swath of four-star (and, hey, maybe even a few five-star kids) come five years from today.

Chris: If there was one thing for certain about the golden years, South Carolina landing the best in state recruits helped win 33 games in three years. Five years ago, South Carolina would have landed Xavier Thomas, because all the Gamecocks did was land the top in-state recruit: Stephon Gilmore, Marcus Lattimore, Jadeveon Clowney, etc. Will Muschamp has a lot of ground to make up with the mess Spurrier’s final regime left behind. There’s trust to fix, relationships to mend and a reputation to rebuild within South Carolina’s most important recruiting grounds: Atlanta and South Charlotte. I don’t think people understand the uphill nature of recruiting right now for this staff.

Massachusetts v South Carolina Photo by Mike Comer/Getty Images

Sydney: And that steers me to the next topic: the staff. While it’s still a ways off, I’d like to think that Muschamp is still here in 2022. It comes down to two major factors: a) can he recruit at a high level, and b) can he win. While he’s said a lot of good things thus far, which I like, and while 2016 was a step (albeit a small one) in the right direction, we still haven’t seen him land the really big fish. I understand it’s a process, and what he does in 2018 (on and off the field) will set a good framework for down the road. As for the staff? That’s a little more of an unknown. If all of his assistants are here in five years, I guess we could count that as a win, but we could also count it as a) them either being comfortable with where they are or b) pretty good, but not good enough to take the next step in their career (i.e. a head coaching job). Hopefully that makes sense.

Chris: It won’t take much to keep Muschamp here through 2022. If he can average seven to eight wins a year and pulls a Clemson upset every once in a while, he could retire in Columbia. From 2005 to 2009, Steve Spurrier went 35-28 with one bowl win, so if Muschamp could match that going into 2021 he’ll be fine. 7-5, 8-4 aren’t the kind of records that get your staff plucked apart by vultures, but I’m sure there’ll be some attrition in five years — it’s inevitable in the world of college football. So long as Muschamp can keep the key pieces around like Bryan McClendon, Travaris Robinson and Kurt Roper, I think Boom will be okay.

Sydney: Definitely agree with that assessment. The big question, though, is if being a middle-of-the-road SEC program will be enough for the fanbase? Sure, Muschamp might be safe, per se, if he does average about eight wins a year, but my fear is that it won’t be acceptable in the end to many, especially keeping the three 11-2 seasons in mind. Again, we’re looking fairly far into the future, so at worst I think that this program will plateau at that eight-win mark you mentioned. At absolute best, though, they’re consistently competing in the SEC and at least finishing in that top 15-20 baseline that might get you a few votes in the CFP. That being said, I don’t want to get married to a specific prediction since we’re depending on so many unknown variables at this time.

Chris: Before I stand on my soapbox, let me say I graduated from SC in 2014 and am incredibly fond of those 11-2 seasons because I was in the stands for pretty much every game of that run. However, the fanbase can’t stay hung up on those years as a bench mark for success. Look at those three seasons compared to the rest of South Carolina football history — they’re outliers. Spurrier jumped on the fact Dabo Sweeney didn’t have the same recruiting clout that he did in 2008 and sucked up a bunch of blue chip recruits during a football talent renaissance within the state of South Carolina.

Look at the names: Gilmore, Clowney, Jeffery, Ellington, Quarles, Swearinger, Holloman, Whitlock, Lattimore and so on. That’s nine NFL players alone pulled from your home state. That’s not only unprecedented for South Carolina from a recruiting standpoint, but it was unprecedented for the state to produce at the high school level. From 2010-2013, the Gamecocks caught lightning in a bottle — and as much as it pains me to my core to say this -- South Carolina football may never get back to that level again.

*Steps down from Soapbox*

In short, fans need to stop using 11-2 as a benchmark. Gamecock fans need to keep their expectations tempered, especially since Muschamp is competing with the machine Dabo’s built upstate.

South Carolina v Clemson
Jake Bentley is totally going to be the #1 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. Maybe.
Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Sydney: I hear you. It’s just going to be extremely difficult to temper expectations, but let’s hope Muschamp can get things on track and set it up for success down the road; it’s not too much to ask for this team to play in a bowl every single year and for them to get to a New Years’ Six bowl on a fairly frequent-ish basis (hopefully at least once in that five-year span).

With all that said, we should probably bring this plane in for a landing pretty soon. Any closing overall thoughts/predictions to throw out there before we wrap up?

Chris: I would encourage Gamecock fans everywhere to be cautious in their optimism about this regime. Understanding all the qualifiers at Florida, Muschamp did fail at a job that’s set up to be fairly fail-proof. As far as what Muschamp has done at SC, recruiting, defensive improvement and potential at quarterback have all been encouraging but that’s about all it is — encouraging. One year is too small of a sample to actively gauge how a staff will project over the next five years, so staying cautiously optimistic is the best course to take from here. I know fans were probably looking for more fireworks and hot takes, but realistically speaking that’s where I stand and that’s where other Gamecock fans should stand too.

Sydney: You know what, Chris? This was fun. What do you say about digging this up five years from now and seeing how we did? I feel like we should print this out, stick it in a time capsule and not open it until May 1, 2022, only to realize how wrong we where when the Gamecocks actually end up signing the top classes in 2020 and 2021 and end up winning back-to-back national championships. Oh, wait - you said cautious optimism. Never mind.

Let’s see what you guys have to say in the comments below. And reach out to us on social as well. I’m at @shwrites, Chris is at @theTEXAStanley, and we’re all over at @GABAttack or