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Quarterback Jake Bentley's impressive play last season has some analysts thinking the Gamecocks could challenge for the SEC East title in 2017.

Former SEC coach picks Gamecocks as division dark horse; expectations for first-year defensive players

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Championship-winning coach, now analyst, picks South Carolina as SEC East dark horse

SEC Network analyst and former Auburn coach Gene Chizik picked South Carolina as his dark horse to win the SEC East crown.

“Here’s what I say: quarterbacks and defense,” Chizik said. “Hey, [QB Jake] Bentley’s got a chance. His sample size is not large. Let’s be realistic about that, [a] lot of pressure on him since he did show some flash.”

“Travaris Robinson and Will Muschamp have to get together and they have to figure out how to really shore up the inside of that defense, because when I watched them on film, I thought they got pushed around a little bit,” the former coach continued.

Jake Bentley learns from South Carolina greats

Since becoming the Gamecocks’ starting quarterback, Bentley’s been in touch with a number of former South Carolina players, including Marcus Lattimore and Dylan Thompson.

“He always just reminds me to stay humble, stay in the film room and just different ways of leading guys,” the rising sophomore said of his relationship with Thompson. “I looked to him last year, being the young guy stepping in, what tips he would give me. He gave me a lot. He just helped me through the whole process.”

Bentley is looking to improve on a promising freshman campaign in which he passed for 1,420 yards and 9 touchdowns in seven games.

Expectations for first-year defensive players

Muschamp plans to play nine first-year players on defense this season, the coach told The All New Early Game on 107.5 The Game on Thursday.

“Because, at the end of the day, it’s nine guys where I really don’t know how they’re going to respond in front of 80,000 people up in Charlotte,” he said. “So, we’ve got to be careful about installation and what we’re asking them to do communication wise and those sort of things.”

The Gamecocks expect early contributions from JUCO transfer defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw, JUCO transfer defensive back Keisean Nixon and freshman defensive ends Brad Johnson and Aaron Sterling, among others.

KJ Henry feels the love from South Carolina

Five-star DE KJ Henry appreciates the personal attention he gets from Muschamp.

“I like that most of all,” Henry said. “The fact that he keeps in contact with me and my parents a lot, as a head coach, it shows a lot of respect.”

The Cornelius, N.C., native lists South Carolina, Alabama, Clemson, Georgia and Virginia Tech as his top schools.

Matthew Hill has his finalists

Four-star athlete Matthew Hill has zeroed in on three schools: South Carolina, Alabama and Auburn.

Though Auburn is believed to be the favorite, Hill still speaks highly of the Gamecocks.

“I like the coaching staff and atmosphere. I went there most recently with my coach, who went to South Carolina,” the Snellville, Ga., native said. “I just have a strong connection with a lot of the staff and like the environment around the school.”

Hoops welcomes an official visitor

South Carolina basketball hosted 3-star small forward Jimmy Nichols for an official visit on Wednesday.

Nichols is rated as the No. 62 small forward in the country, according to 247Sports composite rankings.

The Conway (S.C.) High School standout boasts offers from Arizona State, Georgetown and Virginia Commonwealth, among others.

The great uniform debate

South Carolina wore several different uniform combinations in 2016, but which combo brought the Gamecocks the most luck?

According to the Garnet and Black Attack blog, the black helmet/black jersey/black pants ensemble is the best of the bunch.

Happy Friday

Let the South Carolina football team put you in a happy mood for Friday.

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