COLUMBIA – South Carolina goes to Missouri on Sept. 21 for an SEC East game in week 4.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this game for 2019 is the presence of a familiar figure at quarterback for Missouri – former Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant. Bryant, who transferred to the other Columbia after Trevor Lawrence took over as Clemson's starter this past season, joins the other Tigers as a grad transfer and will almost surely be their starter.
Last year's record - 8-5 (4-4)
Last year vs. South Carolina - USC won 37-35
Key losses - QB Drew Lock, RB Damarea Crockett, WR Emanuel Hall, DL Terry Beckner Jr., DL Walter Palmore
After three-plus seasons of an offense led by Drew Lock, more of a pass-first quarterback, Missouri will surely tweak its offensive scheme to better match the talents of the speedy Bryant. The former Wren standout certainly has the ability to hurt teams with his arm, but he's dynamic in the running game as a shifty ball-carrier who also has size at 6-foot-3, 225 pounds.
While Lock would run the football when he needed to, Bryant brings a true plus running threat to that position, which will force defenses to account for the quarterback and open up more in the quick passing game.
Bryant will have some options to work with too, as 1,000-yard rusher Larry Roundtree III returns as does NFL tight end prospect Albert Okwuegbunam.
Players to watch
QB Kelly Bryant, Sr. - As a junior at Clemson, Bryant completed 262 of 398 passes for 2,802 yards and 13 touchdowns against eight interceptions in 14 games. Bryant completed 65.8 percent of his passes and had a 131.7 pass efficiency rating. In Missouri's spring game this year, Bryant completed 12 of 17 passes for 150 yards. He looks poised to take over as the Tigers' starter this season during his final year of eligibility.
RB Larry Rountree III, Jr. - Rountree started a little slow last season but finished on a tear and is easily one of the league's best backs, though he's not as well known as some others in the SEC. Rountree rushed for 1,216 yards, as he averaged 5.4 yards per carry and tallied 11 touchdowns on the ground as a sophomore.
TE Albert Okwuegbunam, Jr. - The 6-foot-5, 255-pounder is a bonafide NFL prospect who you'd imagine is in his last year of college. Okwuegbunam saw an extremely productive sophomore campaign cut short by injury but still managed to grab 43 catches for 466 yards (both career highs) and six touchdowns in his nine games played. The Illinois native returns this year as one of the top receiving targets in the Mizzou offense.
With a 3-0 record against Missouri since arriving in Columbia, Will Muschamp seems to have Barry Odom's number, though last year's contest won the Weird Award as the strangest game of the season.
Missouri's offense should produce one of the more interesting tests this season as the backfield combination of Bryant and Rountree will be one of the more dynamic rushing units in the conference. They'll face off with a South Carolina defensive front that should be much improved after last year's was decimated by injuries as the year progressed.
The potential improvement of South Carolina's defense from one year to the next perhaps needs to be talked about more this off-season and I expect an inconsistent linebacking corps to automatically be bolstered by a defensive line that will be more talented, more experienced and deeper than last year's. A Missouri offensive line that returns three of its starters should make for an intriguing battle in the trenches.
On the defensive side of the ball, Missouri has questions, but is experienced. The Tigers went through a stretch where they were putting out NFL defensive lineman at a rate as high as about anyone in the country, but that's dipped in recent seasons and defensive end in a concern.
While the Tigers haven't been good at getting to the quarterback, they've actually still been stalwarts against the run, allowing just 126.5 rushing yards per game.
While South Carolina was able to score 37 points against the Tigers last year (seven of those came on a pick-six), they rushed for just 128 yards and averaged 2.7 yards per carry.
Generating a successful running game against SEC-level competition has been a goal for the off-season for the Gamecocks.
In an interesting twist of fate, the Gamecocks' rushing attack could feature former Clemson running back Tavien Feaster (he is expected to announce his future home mid-summer and the Gamecocks are in the mix), which would create a Feaster-vs.-Bryant match-up of former Clemson skill players.