Head football coach Will Muschamp is set to talk to the media at 4 p.m. on Wednesday at SEC Media Days in Birmingham, Alabama. This media event, which lasts four days, is considered by many to be the unofficial start of the college football season. SEC coaches and players meet with members of the media to answer questions about the upcoming season.
With South Carolina coming off a 7-6 (4-4 SEC) record in 2018, there are lots of questions surrounding both Muschamp, who is entering his fourth season in Columbia, and the South Carolina football program in 2019. Below are some questions that fans can expect Muschamp to face during the press conference.
1. How are you going to approach the schedule this year?
South Carolina's schedule has been discussed at length. The Gamecocks play Georgia and Clemson, who both finished in the Top 10 by the end of the 2018 season. Clemson won the national championship by beating Alabama, who the Gamecocks play this year on Sept. 14 in Columbia. Additionally, the Gamecocks will play Florida and Texas A&M, who were also ranked in the final 2018 polls. And that's just the SEC slate.
The Gamecocks are also set to play Appalachian State, who has historically played well against bigger name schools. In 2007, they beat No. 5 Michigan in Ann Arbor, and took Penn State to overtime last season.
While preseason strength of schedule is merely a prediction, it has been a hot topic over the past few months, especially since Muschamp's only win over a ranked team came against Tennessee in his first season in Columbia in 2016.
2. How are you going to combat injuries in 2019?
Injuries were a major component to South Carolina's 2018 record. By the end of the season, there had been a total of 26 injuries throughout the season; 14 of them were season-ending injuries. The defensive unit was so thin at one point that A.J. Turner, who is listed as a running back, was playing cornerback in the Belk Bowl against Virginia. In order to improve on the 7-6 record, it will be important for the Gamecocks to stay healthy this year, since a team's health can be the difference between a good and great season, especially in a conference as physical as the SEC.
3. What will the offense look like without Deebo Samuel?
Deebo Samuel, a fan favorite known for his explosiveness on the field, was drafted to the San Francisco 49ers in April. Samuel did sit out during the bowl game, but he finished the 2018 season with 882 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns, both of which were career highs. The Gamecocks still have options for the wide receiver position with returning players like Bryan Edwards and Shi Smith, but responding to losing a player like Samuel will be important for the Gamecocks, who look to improve on their offense.
4. Will the defense improve in 2019?
Muschamp is known for his defensive style of play, a reason he was hired in 2015. However, the defense was a point of criticism last year. The Gamecocks ranked 12th in overall defense in the SEC out of 14 teams. They were also 13th in rushing defense, and 11th in scoring defense. While some of these numbers can be related to the amount of aforementioned injuries, it's a unit that struggled more than expected in 2018, particularly in stopping the run. South Carolina did bring in freshman Zacch Pickens, who ranked No. 8 in his recruiting class, and veteran players such as D.J. Wonnum, T.J. Brunson and Javon Kinlaw are returning in 2019. With Muschamp's defensive track record and with the current depth chart, the defense will be a key to success this season.
5. Is there a quarterback battle in Columbia?
Senior quarterback Jake Bentley returns for his third full season in Columbia and is listed as the starting quarterback on the preseason depth chart. Bentley is the most experienced quarterback on the roster, since Ryan Hilinski and Dakereon Joyner are both freshmen. While Bentley did throw for a career high 3,171 yards and 27 touchdowns, he also threw a career high 14 interceptions in 2018. His job is most likely safe, but his 14 interceptions did cost the Gamecock offense last year, and with two talented freshman behind him, there are other quarterback options should Bentley and the South Carolina offense struggle in 2019.