Now that the 2017 college football season is officially in the books, it's never too early to look ahead to 2018. Here are five major offseason storylines for the Gamecocks.
South Carolina's 2018 season -- and likely preseason expectations -- will be bolstered by the return of seniors wide receiver Deebo Samuel and linebacker Bryson Allen-Williams, each of whom suffered season-ending injuries in 2017.
Samuel, the Gamecocks' best offensive playmaker, missed the final 10 games of the season after suffering a broken fibula against Kentucky, and the Carolina offense never seemed to be the same without him.
Samuel will give new offensive coordinator Bryan McClendon a proven playmaker. Samuel's absence forced younger receivers like Bryan Edwards, Shi Smith and OrTre Smith to step up this past season, which should only serve to boost the Gamecocks' depth on offense next year.
Bryson Allen-Williams' shoulder injury in week 3 also forced the veteran to miss the rest of the season and a medical redshirt will allow him to return in 2018. Allen-Williams, who has played a multitude of linebacker positions throughout his career, gives the Gamecocks a versatile defender who can play in space and rush the passer. His return will help ease the loss of Skai Moore.
The Gamecocks will also benefit from the full-time return of running back Rico Dowdle and tight end K.C. Crosby, each of whom played some in the Outback Bowl after missing a portion of the season with injuries.
Closing on 2018 recruiting class
The advent of the early signing period has left the traditional February National Signing Day as a likely anti-climatic end to the 2018 recruiting cycle.
But the Gamecocks are still after a couple of very important targets -- namely four-stars offensive tackle Dylan Wonnum and defensive tackle Rick Sandidge.
Wonnum, the younger brother of South Carolina's D.J. Wonnum, is looking at South Carolina, Auburn, LSU and Tennessee with his first official visit of the process coming in the form of a trip to Auburn this weekend. The Gamecocks' visit will likely take place on Jan. 19
It's a similar story with top defensive tackle target Sandidge, who is set to take his official visit to South Carolina on Jan. 26. Sandidge also plans to take official visits to Georgia and North Carolina before completing the process with an announcement on National Signing Day.
What will new offense look like?
The promotion of co-offensive coordinator Bryan McClendon to full-time playcaller and hiring of Dan Werner to coach the Gamecocks' quarterbacks should bring changes to the Gamecocks' offense, though how much the scheme will actually change remains a mystery.
Will Muschamp likes the overall idea of the scheme the Gamecocks have run the last two seasons but clearly wants to see more tempo, and obviously more production from that side of the ball.
Werner has been in college football for over three decades with experience both in pro-style schemes and in Hugh Freeze's spread attack at Ole Miss.
Carolina fans can expect to see some combination of the Gamecocks' old offense with new wrinkles from Werner and from whatever the staff picks up when they visit other programs across the country.
Whatever the offense looks like, it's most important that the staff is able to simplify what's asked of the players a bit and put them in a position to execute on a more consistent basis.
Coaches to get paid
South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp is expected to get a raise and contract extension into 2023, while we expect talented defensive coordinator Travaris Robinson to become part of the million-per-year coordinator club with a boost to over that number.
Muschamp has improved the Gamecocks' win total from three in the season before he arrived to six in his first year to nine this season. He appears to have the program on the right track.
Robinson is one of the country's most sought-after young coordinators and turned down overtures from Florida State and Texas A&M to remain in Columbia.
Carolina's other assistants are also likely to receive bumps in pay and extensions to reward the program's progress.
Who will be East favorite?
With a national championship game appearance, Georgia will likely be the preseason favorite in the SEC East by default -- but a closer look reveals that the division is as open as it's ever been.
The Bulldogs' impressive run to the College Football Playoff final was impressive -- and they currently have the top incoming class in the country on Rivals.com -- but Georgia also honored 31 departing players on senior day, meaning there will be a great deal of turnover in Athens this offseason.
Turnover is a fitting word for the rest of the division as well as both Tennessee and Florida will have new head coaches, while a potent Missouri offense loses its offensive coordinator before the surprise hire of Derek Dooley in that role.
The Tigers could also lose quarterback Drew Lock, who has an NFL Draft decision to make. Throw in uncertain QB situations at Florida, Tennessee and Kentucky and the division should be anyone's for the taking.
Georgia does return quarterback Jake Fromm and a bevy of talented underclassmen. But will the Jake Bentley-led Gamecocks emerge as a preseason dark horse pick in the division? I won't be surprised.
And that sets up a very intriguing early season matchup as Georgia returns to the early part of Carolina's schedule for a Week 2 matchup in Columbia.