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2016 Opponent Look Ahead: South Carolina

Jalen Hurd-1-3

South Carolina vs Tennessee

When: Saturday, Oct. 29th

Where: Columbia, S.C. (Williams-Brice Stadium)

South Carolina at a glance

Head Coach: Will Muschamp (1st year, 28-21 career at Florida)

Conference: SEC

All-time record: 587-561-44

2015 results: 3-9 (1-7)

Record against Tennessee: 7-25-2; Last meeting was a 27-24 victory for Tennessee in Knoxville in 2015.

2015 Overview: Just two years ago, South Carolina was coming off a Capital One Bowl win over Wisconsin to complete a 33-6 run since the beginning of the 2011 season. The Gamecocks finished the 2013 season as the No. 4 team in the country. Less than two years later, South Carolina was found adrift in losses.

The Gamecocks finished a 3-9 season with a 37-32 loss to rival Clemson – a team that just could never knock off the -instate program, but now is the nation’s top-ranked squad. The 2015 campaign proved to be USC’s worst since a winless 1999 season, when it was reeling in a 21-game losing streak. It also proved to be bad enough that head coach Steve Spurrier decided to step down in the middle of the season with a 2-4 record. Offensive line coach Shawn Elliott stepped up to the plate with great energy, but only managed to secure one more win for the Gamecocks.

South Carolina lost starting quarterback, Connor Mitch, in the middle of the season, which didn’t help its case on offense. Perry Orth and Lorenzo Nunez were constantly rotating at the quarterback position, and that inconsistency proved to be a major blow on offense. Star wide receiver Pharoh Cooper was an All-SEC selection and was the lone bright spot on the team. He was a fourth-round pick to the Rams in this year’s NFL draft.

The Gamecocks return only seven starters from 2015, and their best linebacker, Skai Moore, is out for the season with a neck injury. South Carolina will have to look for younger guys to step up, including freshman quarterback Brandon McIlwain. With a new head coach in Will Muschamp, don’t expect South Carolina to improve significantly in 2016.

Three questions for this game:

1. Can Will Muschamp beat the Vols for the fourth time?

The former Florida coach has played the Vols three times in his head coaching career and has never lost. So could he beat the Vols again at South Carolina? The answer is most likely not. Historically, Muschamp has been able to create some of the best defenses year in and year out. At Texas and Florida, he helped elevate those defenses into nationally ranked units full of NFL talent. However, South Carolina is a much different story. Recruiting has been fairly weak the past few seasons, and that’s something Spurrier reiterated last preseason. With tons of questions at almost every position, don’t expect Muschamp to work wonders this year. The Vols will be much more experienced and talented.

2. How will the defense fare with Muschamp at the helm?

Simply put, not well. Last year’s unit finished last in total defense in the SEC as it gave up an average of 429.8 yards per game. Muschamp is a solid defensive mind, but he just doesn’t have the talent or depth necessary to put together a good defense this year either. In fact, this year’s Gamecock defense has the potential to be the worst in school history. South Carolina’s defensive star and middle linebacker, Skai Moore, will miss the 2016 season with a neck injury. He plans to be back in 2017. Starting cornerback, Rico McWilliams, is also out indefinitely with an injury. With those two gone, the Gamecocks return only three defensive starters. Even though last year’s contest came down to a last minute fumble by the Gamecocks, don’t expect South Carolina to pose much of a threat this year.

3. Who will be the Gamecocks’ quarterback?

That is a good question, and that could be one that is still trying to be answered when the Vols arrive in Columbia on October 29th. The Gamecocks listed all five scholarship quarterbacks as co-starters entering spring practice, but incumbent starter Perry Orth and sophomore Lorenzo Nunez were held out with injuries, allowing freshman Brandon McIlwain to emerge. McIlwain also beat out Connor Mitch and Michael Scarnecchia. Muschamp’s tenure at Florida was ruined by poor quarterback play and health, so this is already not the best sign for him. As of Sunday, McIlwain and Orth are the top splitting starting reps in practice, and there might not be an official starter named before the opener against Vandy on Thursday.

How do we expect it to play out?

Despite some close calls, Butch Jones has never lost to South Carolina. That looks to remain true for the immediate future, as South Carolina could very well end up being last in the SEC again.

Tennessee is loaded with talent, depth and experience. South Carolina can’t say the same. The Vols could also arrive in Columbia as a top-10 ranked program by that point in the season, depending how they fare in the four-game gauntlet before this contest. The Vols will also have a bye before this matchup.

This game has all the potential to get ugly real quick for the Gamecocks. As mentioned before, their defense and offense could be historically bad. They don’t have the talent, depth, or experience that Tennessee has. Vol fans everywhere will finally be able to say they’ve defeated Will Muschamp, and probably in a very convincing fashion.

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