South Carolina goes into Saturday’s game against Coastal Carolina as a prohibitive favorite, but in true coaching fashion Will Muschamp is putting that aside as he prepares to open his third season with the Gamecocks.

Muschamp said he hasn’t even brought up to his players the fight the Chanticleers, who won only three games, gave to Arkansas before dropping a 39-38 decision late in the season.

“We really haven’t,” Muschamp said. “Every week’s a season around here. We’re going to be totally focused and dialed in on our opponent this week and that’s Coastal. Regardless of who were playing or who’s on the other sideline we’re going to respect our opponent.

“We’re going to look at their schemes and what we need to do to win the football game and dial in on those things and play the way we’re capable of playing.”

That said, the Gamecocks do have high hopes for 2018. Muschamp said he saw them make progress in fall camp, especially when it came to adapting to the up-tempo offense under Bryan McClendon, who no longer has to share offensive coordinator responsibilities.

“First off, our tempo has been much better, as far as us getting on the ball and dictating the tempo of the game,” Muschamp said. “I think that’s Bryan’s mentality as a play-caller. It all goes back to the mentality of the play-caller.

“Very aggressive in what we’re trying to do down the field. In order to create explosive plays, you’ve got to take some shots. To me, I go back to the tempo, what we’re playing with, is going to help us in the run game. It’s going to help us in protecting Jake. It’s going to help us sustain more drives.”

“Jake” would be quarterback Jake Bentley, who goes into his junior year after starting since midseason of his freshman year.

Bentley will have South Carolina’s top playmaker returning with wide receiver Deebo Samuel back from a broken leg, and four players — Rico Dowdle, Ty’Son Williams, A.J. Turner, and Mon Denson — make for the deepest running back corps since Muschamp’s arrival.

“We need to get competition at every position like that,” Muschamp said of the situation at running back. You understand that you’ve got an opportunity to go strain every single day, to earn your opportunity to play.

“They’ve made our football team better, because of that competition.”


–RB Rico Dowdle is listed with Ty’Son Williams, A.J. Turner, and Mon Denson as a potential starter against Coastal Carolina. “I would envision all four of them playing,” coach Will Muschamp said. “They all deserve it.” Dowdle rushed for 251 yards in eight game last year, Turner for a team-high 531, Williams 471, and Denson 152. They all should get a lot of reps against an overmatched Coastal Carolina.

–WR Deebo Samuel saw his 2017 season end after three games when he sustained a broken leg, but he is back to give the Gamecocks a huge boost on offense and special teams. He scored six touchdowns in his brief appearance (he was injured in the third quarter of the third game), three receiving, two on kick returns, and one rushing. Already he has received preseason All-America recognition from various sources.

–LB Bryson Allen-Williams started the first three games before a shoulder injury derailed the rest of his 2017 season. He could be the key to South Carolina’s pass rush (two sacks) and also can cover receivers (one interception) from his outside position.

–NB Jaycee Horn is South Carolina’s lone true freshman starter, according to the depth chart released by Muschamp. He beat out sophomore Jamyest Williams, a sophomore who started last year but missed the spring because of injury. “He has really good man coverage skills,” Muschamp said of Horn. “He uses his length very well. He finishes on the top of routes.”

–S J.T. Ibe, a graduate transfer from Rice who missed the first two weeks of fall camp because of hip surgery, was a surprise at No. 1 on the depth chart for Saturday’s game.