South Carolina seeking improvement in challenging season

NCAA Football

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP)South Carolina coach Will Muschamp is tired of dwelling on his team’s struggles. This season might make that even harder not to do.

Muschamp starts his fifth season with the Gamecocks desperate to get his team headed back in a positive direction. He led South Carolina to a pair of winning seasons in 2017 and 2018 before last year’s disastrous 4-8 campaign that included losses in five of its last six games.

Adding two more SEC teams – in South Carolina’s case, Auburn and Ole Miss – to a schedule that already included top-10 opponents Georgia, LSU and Florida is not likely to help get back on the winning track.

Muschamp is tired of the negativitysome have voiced about his program’s direction. He believes his team has put the past in the past and is poised for improvement.

”We’ve made changes and I think we’ve made the right changes,” Muschamp said. ”You can continue to bring up the negativity of it, or you can be constructive and learn what you’ve got to do.”

Last year’s flop led Muschamp to overhaul the staff, including bringing in his third offensive coordinator in five seasons after ex-Colorado State coach Mike Bobo took over for Bryan McClendon, now the passing game coordinator with Oregon.

In all, South Carolina changed five on-field assistants, its strength and conditioning coach, and its directors of player personnel and player development.

Muschamp liked how the new group worked with players in the five spring sessions South Carolina had before the coronavirus pandemic shut down athletic activities last March. He believes that bond continued to grow since workouts resumed in June and into fall camp.

The coach has been pleased with how his players have taken to the bubble-like environment brought on by the global pandemic.

”I choose to control what I can control and that’s in this building, trusting our players to make mature, responsible decisions,” Muschamp said.

For sophomore quarterback Ryan Hilinski, that meant diving into the playbook of new coordinator Bobo, also quarterbacks coach.

”We’ve got a new offense and it requires you to know the playbook in and out,” Hilinski said. ”If you don’t know it, you won’t play.”

Hilinski was expected to play a backup, mop up role as a freshman last season. That changed when senior starter Jake Bentley was lost for the year with a foot injury. Hilinski had his own injuries last season including a meniscus tear in his left knee.

Hilinski said he’s healthy and prepared to move forward this season.

Some other things to watch for during South Carolina’s season:

RUNNING GAME:

South Carolina could have more problems in jump-starting its struggling running attack with the loss of four-star freshman MarShawn Lloyd, who tore a knee ligament at fall practice and is out for the season. The Gamecocks two top rushers from last year in Tavien Feaster and Rico Dowdle were seniors.

DEFENSIVE CHANGE

The Gamecocks lost one of their best defensive linemen in Javon Kinlaw, a first-round pick of the San Francisco 49ers this past spring. They’re hoping that five-star freshman defensive lineman Jordan Burchcan make a quick impact up front. Muschamp said Burch is ”extremely bright” and competitive in all situations on and off the field so far.

QUARTERBACK SHUFFLE?

Ryan Hilinski knows what it’s like to push for playing time. These days the sophomore knows what it’s like to get pushed as highly regarded freshman Luke Doty has impressed in meetings and on the field. Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo has said he’ll find ways to get Doty on the field because of the effort and talent he’s displayed so far.

VIRUS UPDATE

South Carolina has not given regular virus updates since the program returned to action in June. However, Muschamp said the team has remained relatively healthy during their summer after wearing masks and staying away from large gatherings. Two South Carolina offensive lineman opted out of the season due to COVID-19 worries, including Jordan Rhodes, who started 10 games last season.

SCHEDULE SCRAMBLE

The Gamecocks two additional games in the 10-game, all SEC opponents schedule are a home contest with Auburn on Oct. 17 and at Mississippi on Nov. 14. South Carolina lost its annual state rivalry game with Clemson and non-conference games with Coastal Carolina, East Carolina and FCS opponent Wofford. South Carolina athletic director Ray Tanner has said he will look to schedule future games with those three latter schools to makeup for this years’s cancellations.

More AP college football: https://apnews.com/Collegefootball and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25

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