With kickoff just over a month away, we take a deep dive into some of the top talent South Carolina’s defense will face this upcoming season.
Kellen Mond, Texas A&M
Texas A&M’s senior quarterback is back for his final season under Jimbo Fisher.
Mond is a true dual-threat, and has shown he can beat teams both on the ground or through the air. Over the past two seasons, he has totaled over 975 yards and 15 touchdowns on the ground as well as 6,004 yards and 44 touchdowns passing.
With weapons all around and an offensive line that returns four of five starters, Mond is poised to have the best season he’s had in College Station.
Muschamp and the Gamecock defense will need to limit his rushing attack and force him to succeed with his arm to have the best chance against the Aggies this year.
2020 Projection: 63% completion; 3,124 yards; 25 touchdowns; 8 interceptions / 475 rushing yards; 8 touchdowns
Trevor Lawrence, Clemson
The presumptive #1 pick in the 2021 draft since his freshman season, Lawrence is truly a special talent.
He has all the tools and intangibles that you need for a franchise quarterback in the NFL. Great size at 6”6’ and 220 pounds, an arm that is both strong and accurate, and is sneaky mobile outside of the pocket.
He has shown the ability to make deep and accurate throws running to his right or left, which is a rare ability for pocket passers. In his two years as starter, he has totaled 6,945 yards passing, 66 touchdowns and just 12 interceptions.
Last season in particular, he became a serious threat as a scrambler, amassing 563 rushing yards and nine touchdowns on the ground.
It is extremely difficult to defend players of his caliber and the a key point for the Gamecocks is to extend offensive drives keeping the ball out of his hands.
2020 Projection: 67% completion; 3,812 yards; 37 touchdowns; 5 interceptions
Larry Rountree III, Missouri
This spot could’ve gone to other strong backs like Isaiah Spiller and Zamir White, but Rountree is the most experienced and established of the three and should have a bigger role within their respective offenses.
Rountree is one of the few parts of the Tiger offense that is not a question mark.
Having rushed for 2,045 yards and 20 touchdowns the past two seasons, he will certainly be the focal point of the Missouri offense and relied on heavily to produce.
His career average YPC is 5.1, but the Gamecocks have held him to 4.7 YPC in three meetings, just under his average.
If South Carolina is able to hold him in check again in 2020, the Mizzou offense could really struggle due to the question marks around him.
2020 Projection: 204 carries; 1,089 yards; 12 touchdowns
Travis Etienne, Clemson
One of the most productive running backs in the nation, Etienne is returning to Clemson despite probably being a 2nd or 3rd round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.
He is already swimming in accolades. He was a first team All-American by ESPN in 2018, two time ACC player of the year, and is already the career leader for rushing touchdowns in the ACC.
He has rushed for over 1,600 yards in each of the past two seasons, and has 43 touchdowns in the last two years as well.
He also became more of a receiving threat last year. After just 78 receiving yards in 2018, he totaled 432 yards and 4 touchdowns a year ago.
One of, if not the best running back in Clemson history, Etienne is going to be a serious problem for every defense he faces this year.
2020 Projection: 198 carries; 1,655 yards, 22 touchdowns
George Pickens, Georgia
Pickens, just a true sophomore, is already one of the SEC’s best.
After leading the Bulldogs in receiving as a true freshman, earning him freshman All-SEC honors, he has potential to be a candidate for national honors in the coming years.
Against South Carolina in 2019, Pickens had 7 receptions for 98 years, one of the few highlight performers for Georgia in that contest.
He was also the Most Outstanding Player in the 2020 Sugar Bowl, where he had 12 receptions for 175 yards and a touchdown.
The good thing for South Carolina is that the secondary is the strongest part of the defense this season.
Whether it is Israel Mukuamu or Jaycee Horn lined up against him, it will be a battle of good on good.
2020 Projection: 72 receptions; 1,130 yards; 10 touchdowns
Ja’Marr Chase, LSU
Chase enters his junior season after winning the Biletnikoff Award, given to the nations best receiver as a sophomore last season.
His statistics were off the charts: over 1,700 yards and 20 touchdowns to help lead LSU to a national championship.
One of his most memorable performances came in the 2020 National Championship, where he demolished AJ Terrell and the Clemson secondary for 221 yards and 2 touchdowns.
He went for over 200 yards in three different games during 2019 and had over 120 yards in nine out of 14 games played.
After a remarkable season, if LSU can sustain consistent QB play, he could end up being a back-to-back Biletnikoff winner.
That has only happened twice in history, most recently by Justin Blackmon in 2010-11.
2020 Projection: 89 receptions; 1,540 yards; 13 touchdowns
Kyle Pitts, Florida
Pitts led the Gators in receiving yards in 2019 as a tight end, which doesn’t happen all that often.
His 649 yards receiving and 5 touchdowns led to him being named All-SEC first team tight end as a true sophomore.
At 6”6’ 240 pounds, he is a real matchup nightmare, and can be used in many different ways by Dan Mullen.
Pitts’ versatility is what is so hard to contain. He is too big to be covered by most cornerbacks, especially nickels when he is lined up in the slot, but too fast to be covered by most linebackers.
Pitts is expected to be a first round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, even seeing some projections as high as top 10.
With Florida losing all of their top four receivers other than Pitts, his role within the offense should get even bigger than it already was.
2020 Projection: 65 receptions; 785 yards; 7 touchdowns
Landon Young, Kentucky
Young, a former five-star recruit and US Army All-American, chose to return to Kentucky instead of leaving early for the NFL Draft.
He missed the 2018 season with injury and redshirted, but has been a starter for the Wildcats every year that he has been healthy.
Highest graded returning SEC offensive tackles:— PFF College (@PFF_College) May 11, 2020
1. Darian Kinnard, Kentucky – 89.2
2. Landon Young, Kentucky – 78.3
3. Carson Green, Texas A&M – 76.3 pic.twitter.com/Eszo3rj1oX
The Kentucky offensive line as a whole is formidable, returning 4/5 starters from 2019, but none more important than the left tackle Landon Young.
Expect his name to be called within the first three rounds of the 2021 NFL Draft, more than likely a fringe first rounder.