SPORTS LIBRARY, South Carolina, USC, football

COLUMBIA -- Spring came early for the Gamecocks this year. Well, sort of.

While the weather is getting colder in Columbia, practices will be heating up as the Gamecocks prepare for an Outback Bowl against Michigan.

The team will benefit from some added practice time to help develop a young team and the coaching staff is treating ecember sessions as an extended spring practice.

“We’ve shown progress; we’re an up-and-coming team,” head coach Will Muschamp said. “It’s an exciting time as a Gamecock. It’s an opportunity in essence another spring practice to continue to develop that part of your football team.”

Muschamp said after the bowl game was announced that 70 percent of the team is freshman and sophomores and are going to benefit from the extra 15 or so practices before the Jan. 1 bowl game.

While he was at Florida, Muschamp said he had a few different players shine in the pre-bowl practices and eventually earn a start in the bowl game. There are a few young players that will have the opportunity this season as well.

One of the biggest developmental stages for quarterback Jake Bentley was during bowl prep last year, Muschamp said.

Defensive back Keisean Nixon, someone who saw extended time against Clemson, is one of the potential impact players in bowl preparation and will “get a lot more opportunities, there’s no doubt about that,” Muschamp said.

Other than that, bowl practice will be a chance for other young players to separate themselves for next season.

“We do feel like we’ve got a good mix up front defensively on how we’re rotating guys. We’ll continue to build our depth on the offensive line. Obviously Rico (Dowdle) coming back that creates more competition at that position.”

The Gamecocks will get Dowdle back in the running back rotation as well as tight end K.C. Crosby for the New Year’s Day game. Both have missed extended time with fractured fibulas.

Deebo Samuel, who’s also out with the same injury, won’t be available so the bowl practice will be a chance for young receivers to continue to get added reps in practice.

Shi Smith, who’s battled some injuries over the last two games and missed the Clemson loss, is fine for the postseason and will practice. He and the rest of the receivers will have plenty of chances to impress the coaching staff.

“For (Randrecous) Davis to have another spring ball, for OrTre (Smith) to continue to progress the way he has throughout the year to have another spring ball in essence with this being bowl practice,” Muschamp said. “For all those young players, it’ll be huge for them.”

The Gamecocks have one week of classes left before a week of exams and there isn’t a set day for bowl practice to begin in Columbia. Muschamp mentioned having about 10 sessions here before going to Tampa, Florida.

The team arrives on site for the bowl the day after Christmas and has five scheduled practice days leading up to the game. Those will be huge for the Gamecocks.

“I think as much as anything, football’s a developmental game; you have to take snaps,” Muschamp said. “Probably the first three or four practices will be strictly our underclassmen to continue to work and develop those guys. You have to take snaps in order to get better at this game. That offers us this opportunity to do that.”

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