Bentley in Outback

South Carolina returns Outback Bowl MVP Jake Bentley at quarterback in 2018.

CHRIS GILLESPIE, GAMECOCKCENTRAL.COM

It didn’t take long for Will Muschamp to put the Outback Bowl victory out of his mind and switch gears to the 2018 season.

Minutes after coming back to beat Michigan 26-19, Muschamp addressed the team in the locker room and had a special message for the players coming back to Columbia after winter break.

“It’s all gas no breaks, let’s get ready to roll,” he said. “You have to stay hungry in everything you do. That’s what we’re going to do in our program.”

The Gamecocks will have a few weeks off until classes start back Jan. 16. Players will get a chance to visit with family and decompress before returning to campus for winter workouts.

It’ll be a long wait to get back on the field and scratch that playing itch, but waiting is a lot easier when the last game of the season is a win.

Winning, Javon Kinlaw said, is going to be a big motivator this offseason as players roll back into workouts and spring practice.

“I think that win is really going to pump guys up to compete,” he said. “I’m glad to send the seniors off that way and we have to keep working. We’re going to come in in January and work and try to win every one of them.”

In total, there are only a few players who contributed that are departing this offseason: Dante Sawyer, Ulric Jones, Taylor Stallworth, D.J. Smith, Chris Lammons, Skai Moore and Hayden Hurst.

The team is returning its leading passer, rusher and receiver and the majority of its offensive line.

Steven Montac, who has the most interceptions on the team, returns and defensively three of the team’s top five tacklers come back as well.

Deebo Samuel returns too and Bryson Allen-Wiliams, who missed the majority of the year with a shoulder injury gets inserted back into a defense that’s out to show how good it can be.

“This defense, and myself, we can only be as good as we want to be,” Kinlaw said. “The only thing holding us back is ourselves. Everything’s clicking; you can tell everything’s clicking. Returning almost all of our guys is a big help.”

The Gamecocks won their ninth game of the year in large part because of that staunch defense, marking just seventh nine-or-more-win team in school history.

It seems miles away from the 3-9 season the seniors and some juniors suffered through two years ago, but that wasn’t on their minds celebrating on the field in Tampa Monday.

So the Gamecocks are trying to build off that, using this positive momentum, Muschamp said from the Outback Bowl win, to see how high they can get the program.

It starts when the team gets back to campus in a few weeks, months before the first game kicks off.

“This was a statement game,” T.J. Brunson said. “We just want to make sure we’re heading in the right direction and everyone’s on the same page of what we’re trying to do and what we’re trying to accomplish next year.”

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