HOOVER, Ala. — Southeastern Conference commissioner Greg Sankey introduced Will Muschamp at SEC Media Days by pointing out the Gamecocks head coach has won more games in his first three seasons in Columbia, South Carolina, than any coach in program history.
But for the man affectionately dubbed “Coach Boom”, that accolade isn’t quite good enough.
Despite a daunting schedule — South Carolina will host Alabama and Clemson this season, on top of playing at Georgia — the Gamecocks expect to be more competitive in the SEC’s Eastern Division after finishing fourth in 2018.
“I know people are going to ask me about the schedule. Hell, schedule’s hard every year. That is the way I look at it. We have a great opportunity to step forward as a program to be in the limelight on both Saturdays in the Southeastern Conference and take advantage of the opportunities we have in front of us,” Muschamp said. “In my opinion, we have our best team coming back in South Carolina since I have been there, and we’re looking forward to that opportunity.”
Muschamp recapped South Carolina’s undoing in 2018 by breaking down the opportunities squandered away by the team’s offense.
“We had 56 trips in the red zone. We had 13 times we came away with no points and get eight turnovers. That’s gut wrenching. That’s psychological. That affects your football team, not just our offense, but your entire team to come away with no points. We had 21 turnovers overall in the year. We have to do a better job of making decisions with the ball and taking care of the football. We had 20 drops on the season,” rattled off Muschamp. “And if you followed our season, some of those were game-changing moments. In order to win football games down the field and change the momentum of the game, we got to be able to finish on those plays.”
Considering the offensive side of the ball isn’t exactly Muschamp’s forte, one would think the 47-year-old coach doesn’t deserve the totality of the blame for the team’s shortcomings last season.
Yet Muschamp acknowledged the Gamecocks weren’t much better on the other side of the ball either.
“Defensively, we flat-out struggled. We weren’t very good,” he said. “Call it like it is.”
Yet the fourth-year Carolina head coach made one thing clear: he believes the difficulties of last season have better prepared his team for the 2019 campaign.
“Some of the growing pains that we went through this past year I think will be positives for us, with some of the game experience the guys probably got too soon will certainly be positives for us,” Muschamp said. “But we must improve.”
Those hopes of improving? They likely rest on the shoulders of senior quarterback Jake Bentley.
Set to be a four-year starter, Bentley is poised to go down as the most prolific passer in Gamecocks history; barring injury, the Opelika, Auburn, native should break Todd Ellis’ career records for starts as a quarterback and passing yards, in addition to touchdown, completion and attempts records.
Furthermore, Bentley reaffirmed his place this summer among college football’s elite when he beat out Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, Missouri’s Kelly Byant and Oregon’s Justin Herbert, to name a few, during the Air It Out Challenge at the Manning Passing Academy.
But Bentley isn’t focused on personal accolades — not right now, at least.
Like his head coach, he’s more concerned with guiding a Gamecocks group that’s “without a doubt” the most talented in his tenure.
And, considering both Bentley and Muschamp concur when it comes to the team’s potential in 2019, a lack of improvement would be a tough pill.
“I think there’s multiple reasons (it’s the most talented). One, being the first year that every class is a Muschamp recruiting class. That may not sound like a lot, but it’s senior through freshmen of guys that are fully invested in our program and what we want to do,” Bentley said. “And it’s a lot of guys that have played a lot, a lot of seniors that have played two and three years. We have a lot of experience. We’re excited for this season.”