South Carolina’s 31-21 win against Missouri on Saturday was the Gamecocks’ fifth of the season. That leaves them just a victory vs. Western Carolina away from earning bowl eligibility in Will Muschamp’s first season in Columbia, which would double the Gamecocks’ win total from last season.
It’s easy to see how people could have been skeptical of the Muschamp hire. I’ll readily admit I was one of them. His tenure at Florida took a team that had won multiple national championships in the previous five years and drove it into the ground.
His teams were responsible for some of the worst offensive showings in program history. Every coach likes to believe he can grow, but it was understandably difficult to see the light with Muschamp. That doesn’t even consider that the Gamecocks were inexperienced on both sides of the ball and the program’s recruiting was in disarray.
Up to this point, it hasn’t mattered.
Muschamp has coached better teams in the past, but this could be the best performance of his career. The Gamecocks lost their top rusher and top two receivers (the latter two became NFL draft picks) after last season. Star linebacker Skai Moore, the program’s best player, was lost before the season with a neck injury. There was only one senior on the offense who started as a scholarship player: offensive lineman Mason Zandi.
Despite the disadvantages, South Carolina has won three straight, including victories over then-No. 18 Tennessee and Missouri. It’s the first three-game winning streak at South Carolina since September 2014, when Dylan Thompson was the starting quarterback.
South Carolina has averaged 29.7 points per game during the winning streak after averaging just 14.0 points per game in the first six games, even though the competition has been relatively similar. More importantly, the offense has diversified and progressed.
True freshman quarterback Jake Bentley has been a revelation, throwing 6 touchdown passes and no interceptions during the stretch. Wide receiver Deebo Samuel is living up to his lofty preseason expectations, while freshman running back Rico Dowdle has posted back-to-back 100-yard performances.
South Carolina didn’t have expectations of an instant turnaround, not with so much uncertainty in the program. However, Muschamp’s growth is noticeable. And his greatest strengths — recruiting and developing defensive talent — won’t reveal themselves fully for another year or two.
It’s still early in the Muschamp era, but the returns are as good as South Carolina fans could have hoped. With more performances like this, Muschamp even might be able to put his disastrous Florida tenure behind him.