Spring practice means there are starting jobs up for grabs across the country, and the SEC is no different. On Wednesday we began a series looking at key position battles for each SEC team; we continue that here with a look at South Carolina:
1. Quarterback: There were five candidates vying for the starting job at the start of spring practice: Perry Orth, Connor Mitch, Lorenzo Nunez, Michael Scarnecchia and Brandon McIlwain. So far, Orth has taken most of the first-team snaps in spring; Nunez suffered an injury in the first week that is currently keeping him off the field. Mitch, Orth and Nunez all started games last season for the Gamecocks. McIlwain, the lone newcomer of the quintet, is perhaps the most intriguing potential option. A true freshman who enrolled in January, McIlwain was an ESPN 300 prospect in the 2016 class and ranked as the nation’s seventh-best dual-threat quarterback. Can he beat out the more experienced quarterbacks he’s up against? It will be interesting to see if he can.
2. Receiver: Replacing Pharoh Cooper is no easy task, but the Gamecocks made sure to heavily recruit the position to add competitors to their returning crop of receivers to give them a wide range of names to choose from. Deebo Samuel (12 receptions, 161 yards in 2015) and Matrick Belton (11 receptions, 121 yards) are the returning statistical leaders at the position. Five receiver recruits were signed in February; one of them -- ESPN 300 prospect Bryan Edwards -- enrolled in January and has the opportunity to compete for a spot. South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp noted that he was impressed with Edwards in the offseason and thus listed him as a starter on the pre-spring depth chart, so Edwards could contribute sooner rather than later. Samuel and Belton also entered the spring listed as starters; sophomore Terry Googer and redshirt freshmen Jalen Christian and Christian Owens entered the spring No. 2 on the depth chart. In the summer, the other four 2016 receiver signees -- Korey Banks, Randrecous Davis, Chavis Dawkins and Kiel Pollard -- will join the mix.
3. Safety: The Gamecocks are thin at this position. Juniors Toure Boyd and Jasper Sasser entered spring listed as the starters but Boyd, a junior college transfer who joined the squad in the 2015 recruiting class, only played one game for the Gamecocks in 2015 and had his season disrupted by an ankle injury. Sasser only played in two games last season on special teams and nine games in 2014 on special teams. The returner with the most experience was one that wasn’t expected to be around -- Chris Moody. The senior originally announced he would transfer but recently showed up at practice and looks to be back on the team. Moody has appeared in 37 games, including seven starts in his Gamecocks career. Senior Chaz Elder, who started a little at safety in 2014 but only played two games last season, and junior D.J. Smith, who split time in 12 games between special teams and safety in 2015, are also potential options at the two safety positions. Basically, it’s wide open at both spots.