By Hunter Jones
Special to The Tuscaloosa News

The South Carolina Gamecocks come into the season projected to finish fourth in an SEC East where all but one team received at least one first-place vote.

Headlining the returning starters for the Gamecocks are senior quarterback Jake Bentley and senior wide receiver Bryan Edwards, who will be the No. 1 wide receiver after deciding to forego the NFL Draft and return for his senior season.

“Deebo (Samuel’s) gone this year, I’ll be the No. 1 guy,” Edwards said. “I’m just treating it like the same way I would if he was here, I always thought of myself as a 1A/1B type of thing so nothing changes for me, same old Bryan.”

Bentley finished last season with the fourth most passing yards in the SEC for the second season in a row and he threw the fourth most touchdowns in the SEC with 27 yet also led the league with 14 interceptions.

“I’m excited about (Bentley) going into his senior year,” Gamecocks head coach Will Muschamp said. “He’s played good, quality football for us. He’s the second leading returning passer in the SEC, played extremely well at time last season for us. We need to finish more balls down the field for him and he needs to do a good job taking care of the football in situations.”

Returning on defense for the Gamecocks include their top two linebackers, senior T.J. Brunson, who led in tackles, tackles for loss and tied for the lead in sacks for the Gamecocks last year and senior Sherrod Greene who had the second most tackles last season. On the defensive line, the Gamecocks return a trio of seniors: defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw, who tied Brunson for the team-lead in sacks, defensive tackle Kobe Thomas and defensive end Keir Thomas.

This season the Gamecocks will play their first five games at home, including Alabama on Sept. 14. The last time Alabama played South Carolina in Columbia, the Gamecocks pulled off a stunning upset, winning 35-21.

2018 record: 7-6 (4-4 in conf./Tied for 4th-SEC East)
All-time SEC championships: None
All-time bowl appearances: 23 (9-14)

2018 results
Sept. 1 vs. Coastal Carolina W 49-15
Sept. 8 vs. Georgia L 41-17
Sept. 22 at Vanderbilt W 37-14
Sept. 29 at Kentucky L 24-10
Oct. 6 vs. Missouri W 37-35
Oct. 13 vs. Texas A&M L 27-24
Oct. 27 vs. Tennessee W 27-24
Nov. 3 at Ole Miss W 48-44
Nov. 10 at Florida L 35-31
Nov. 17 vs. Chattanooga W 49-9
Nov. 24 at Clemson L 56-35
Dec. 1 vs. Akron W 28-3
Dec. 29 vs. Virginia L 28-0

Starters returning: 16 Offense: 7 Defense: 7 Specialty: 2
Starters lost: 8 Offense: 4 Defense: 4 Specialty: 0
Returning offensive starters: Jake Bentley (QB, Jr.), Rico Dowdle (RB, Sr.), Bryan Edwards (WR, Sr.), Sadarius Hutcherson (RG, Jr.), Shi Smith (WR, Jr.), Donell Stanley (C, Sr.), Dylan Wonnum (RT, So.)
Returning defensive starters: T.J. Brunson (LB, Sr.), Sherrod Greene (LB, Jr.) Jaycee Horn (CB, So.), Javon Kinlaw (DT, Sr.), R.J. Roderick (S, So.), Kobe Thomas (DT, Sr.), Keir Thomas (DE, Sr.)

Returning statistical leaders
Rushing Att Yards Avg TD
Rico Dowdle 123 674 5.3 4
Passing Att Yards Avg TD
Jake Bentley 388 3171 8.2 27
Receiving Att Yards Avg TD
Bryan Edwards 55 846 15.4 7
Tackles Total Int Sack TFL
T.J. Brunson 106 0 4 10.5

2019 schedule
Aug. 31 vs. North Carolina
Sept. 7 vs. Charleston Southern
Sept. 14 vs. Alabama
Sept. 21 vs. Missouri
Sept. 28 vs. Kentucky
Oct. 12 at Georgia
Oct. 19 vs. Florida
Oct. 26 at Tennessee
Nov. 2 vs. Vanderbilt
Nov. 9 vs. Appalachian State
Nov. 16 at Texas A&M
Nov. 30 vs. Clemson