Hale McGranahan/SEC Country
Tight end Hayden Hurst could become South Carolina's first first-round draft pick since Jadeveon Clowney went No. 1 overall in the 2014 NFL Draft.

South Carolina coach talks SEC East vs. West; Gamecocks try to replace first-round talent at TE

Welcome to SEC Country’s Chicken & Waffles, your daily dish for all things South Carolina Gamecocks football, basketball and more. Miss a previous edition? Find every edition of SEC Country’s South Carolina Gamecocks Chicken & Waffles right here.

‘It’s not the West, it’s Alabama’

South Carolina Gamecocks coach Will Muschamp doesn’t think the SEC East is any less talented than the West.

“I think it all goes in cycles,” Muschamp told The Athletic’s Jason Kersey. “There was a time when Florida and Tennessee were really battling every year for the SEC championship and the national championship. It has swung to the West side.”

“But I think more than anything, it’s not the West, it’s Alabama. Alabama has been dominant. That’s what I would look at and point to.”

In his two years at South Carolina, Muschamp is 1-3 against SEC West teams. Texas A&M (South Carolina’s permanent SEC West foe) and Ole Miss are the Gamecocks’ cross-division opponents in 2018.

Next generation

With All-SEC tight end Hayden Hurst moving on to the NFL, the Gamecocks turn to a talented but mostly inexperienced tight end group to replace his production.

“Who’s used where and in what capacity is sort of up in the air right now,” SEC Country’s Hale McGranahan wrote as he previewed the Gamecocks’ tight ends. “With a new offensive coordinator [Bryan McClendon] and another season with a complete arsenal of wide receivers, there are plenty of unknowns as it relates to the future of the tight end position.”

South Carolina’s six returning tight ends combined for 9 catches for 83 yards in 2017.

On the big board

Speaking of Hurst, the former Pittsburgh Pirates farmhand could go in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft, according to multiple draft experts.

“With the release of his Mock Draft 2.0, [Mel] Kiper believes Hurst will go No. 27 overall to the New Orleans Saints, a team he says needs a new No. 1 tight end for quarterback Drew Brees,” The Big Spur’s John Del Bianco reports. “[NFL Network analyst Mike] Mayock listed Hurst as his No. 1 tight end on Tuesday.”

Hurst’s 44 catches in 2017 led all SEC tight ends.

Checking in

Despite being courted by other Power 5 programs, 4-star defensive end and 2019 prospects Rodricus Fitten is comfortable with his commitment to South Carolina.

“I really enjoyed myself there,” Fitten said. “I really enjoyed myself at South Carolina, like I did before. They treat me like family. That’s what I love about it, and the coaches ask how I’ve been doing in school and all that, and I’ve been doing well.”

Fitten is rated as the No. 22 overall weakside defensive end for 2019, per the 247Sports composite.

The Atlanta native plans to return to Columbia for the Garnet & Black spring game on March 31.

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On the hardwood

The South Carolina men’s basketball team won its second straight game on Wednesday night, toppling Georgia, 66-57. Gamecocks’ Wes Myers and Chris Silva led all scorers with 15 points apiece.

With the win, South Carolina improved to 15-13 overall and 6-9 in the SEC.

Previously, South Carolina snapped a six-game losing streak on Saturday with a 84-75 upset of No. 10 Auburn. The Gamecocks hope to maintain their winning ways on Saturday when they head to Starkville, Miss., to take on Mississippi State.

Let’s celebrate

The No. 7-ranked South Carolina’s women’s basketball team celebrates senior night on Thursday in the team’s final home game of the regular season, a Top 25 showdown with No. 24 LSU.

All-SEC forward A’ja Wilson will be at the center of the team’s festivities.

The Hopkins, S.C., native averaged 17.4 points, 8.6 rebounds, 2.6 blocks and 1.4 assists per game in her four seasons in Columbia — earning a number of All-America and All-SEC accolades in addition to leading the program to its first-ever national championship in 2017.

Offensive explosion

The South Carolina baseball team improved to 4-1 on Wednesday afternoon, thanks to a 15-2 win against Wofford.

Senior catcher Hunter Taylor’s grand slam to put the Gamecocks ahead 8-0 in the third inning was the highlight for South Carolina.

Freshman right-hander Logan Chapman (1-0) earned the win, fanning 4 batters and surrendering just 3 hits and 1 earned run in 3.0 innings on the mound.

South Carolina returns to Founders Park on Friday afternoon for Game 1 of a three-game set against Charleston Southern.

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