Shane Beamer helped South Carolina football make a jump into bowl season early last year, so what’s in store for the Gamecocks in 2022?

Prior to the arrival of Shane Beamer in the 2021 season, South Carolina football suffered through a dismal 6-16 stretch that, frankly, felt rather hopeless for the Gamecocks faithful. They were largely non-competitive in the SEC as a whole and it seemed like a steep climb to get out of that position.

After just one season, though, Beamer has already brought much higher expectations upon himself and the program after a successful debut campaign in Columbia. So what does he have in store for an encore in the 2022 season?

Coming in at No. 41 on FanSided’s Preseason Top 50 Rankings, the South Carolina Gamecocks!

South Carolina football 2021 season in review

Any kind of progress would’ve been acceptable for Shane Beamer’s first season in Columbia but he delivered in a manner that has fans truly excited about what’s to come for the Gamecocks under his watch.

South Carolina exceeded expectations in the 2021 campaign, largely due to securing victories at home over Florida and Auburn in years of turmoil for the program. Despite injuries at quarterback and suspect offensive line play limiting them on that side of the ball, they finished the season 6-6 and then went on to get a big win that has Beamer as the toast of the town in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl over North Carolina.

That’s a strong start for the Beamer era with the program, but with some big-name transfers and another year under the head coach’s tutelage, it also immediately raises the bar for what fans want to see from this team.

Previewing South Carolina offense for 2022 season

  • Returning starters (8): OT Jaylen Nichols, OG Vershon Lee, OL Eric Douglas, OG Jovaughn Gwyn, OT Dylan Wonnum, TE Jaheim Bell, WR Josh Vann, WR Dakereon Joyner
  • Notable Newcomers: QB Spencer Rattler (Oklahoma), TE Austin Stogner (Oklahoma), RB
    Christian Beal-Smith (Wake Forest)
  • Impact player: Spencer Rattler

No one has ever denied the fact that Spencer Rattler is immensely talented. However, what has been called into question is how well the quarterback can put all the tools he has in the chest to use when he’s on the field. So with a change of scenery from Norman to Columbia, actually living up to the hype will be the major test for the quarterback and a lot will be put on his shoulders.

Last season, the Gamecocks offense heavily depended upon Kevin Harris and the rushing attack but, now that he’s gone, they’ll look to revamp the offense as a whole in Rattler’s image. Put plainly, though, there’s nowhere to go but up for a unit that was outside of the Top 10 in the SEC in virtually every offensive category.

Perhaps the biggest key factor will be the offensive line. All five starters return, but that remains to be seen if that’s a positive. The unit was often pushed around and the hope is that their experience in 2021 will lead to growth to allow Rattler and a host of quality weapons to succeed before they get put on their backs.

Previewing South Carolina defense for 2022 season

  • Returning starters (7): DT Zacch Pickens, CB Marcellas Dial, CB Darius Rush, NB Cam Smith, S R.J. Roderick, LB Sherrod Greene, LB Brad Johnson
  • Notable Newcomer: S Devonni Reed (Central Michigan)
  • Impact player: Zacch Pickens

There’s a bit of a good news, bad news situation with the Gamecocks defense for the 2022 season. The good news is that arguably the best pass defense in the SEC returns seven starters, including all but one in the secondary who is replaced by high-end graduate transfer Devonni Reed. The bad news is that the pass defense was allowed to thrive because of a nearly nonexistent run defense that was gashed consistently a year ago.

While South Carolina hopes that Jordan Burch and Jordan Strachan stepping into bigger roles on the edge will help give the front-seven a jolt, the onus should really fall on Zacch Pickens. The former 5-star recruit has flashed his ability over his time in Columbia, but as a now-senior, it’s time for him to be an impact playmaker and leader that both heads the pass rush and shores up the middle of the field to make opposing run games less effective.

South Carolina football players awards watch for 2022 season

Spencer Rattler, Heisman/Maxwell/Davey O’Brien/Walter Camp

Despite gettiing benched in Norman last season, the hope remains high for Rattler at South Carolina as he’s on the watch lists for many of the top awards in the country. He could also be a dark horse Heisman candidate if he can live up to his potential and help the Gamecocks make a run to new heights.

Jaheim Bell and Austin Stogner, Mackey

We’re lumping Bell and Stogner together because the incumbent star and transfer newcomer, respectively, are both on the Mackey watch list for the top tight end in the country. They’re both going to be massive focal points of the passing game and, while they aren’t the favorites to win the award, could challenge the Brock Bowerses and Michael Mayers of the sport.

Cam Smith, Bronko Nagurski/Jim Thorpe/Bednarik

With the way the South Carolina pass defense played a year ago, Smith returning as the leader in the secondary with a ton of potential accolades make a lot of sense. If that unit stays as stout against the aerial attack as it was last season, he could very much contend for any of these awards looking for the best defensive back or defensive player in college football.

South Carolina football biggest game on 2022 schedule

It’s hard for your eyes not to be drawn to the Week 2 trip to Fayetteville to face Arkansas on Sept. 10 and not think that won’t be an absolutely crucial matchup for the Gamecocks.

While the opener against Georgia State won’t be the cakewalk some are expecting, the following week’s road trip is a massive tone-setter. The Razorbacks look like the better team but they also come into the year with similar questions to South Carolina about how real their 2021 success was and what the next step is.

More importantly, Beamer will want a 2-0 start before losing to Georgia in Week 3 and then eyeing a midseason stretch of at Kentucky and home for Texas A&M that could level their record. The result of the Arkansas game will likely be the difference between entering the final stretch of the season at 3-4 or 4-3.

South Carolina football best-case scenario

The best-case scenario obviously starts with winning at Arkansas and, with losses chalked up against Georgia, Kentucky and A&M to start the year, that puts them at 4-3 going into the final month-ish of the season.

Beamer’s crew should have the goods to take care of business at homecoming against Missouri and then roll over Vanderbilt in Nashville to move to 6-3. That leads into a closing stretch of at Florida, vs. Tennessee and at Clemson. Picking up a win against the Gators (though that’s a tough task in The Swamp) or knocking off Tennessee would be absolutely crucial for the best-case scenario, but neither is entirely implausible as Florida has plenty of questions this season and Tennessee’s offense could potentially be slowed if South Carolina’s defense reaches its potential.

Unfortunately, I don’t think the Gamecocks have the necessary talent to topple rival Clemson, especially in Death Valley. Even still, that would put South Carolina t 7-5 in the best-case scenario and in line to get to eight wins if they can secure a second straigh bowl victory under Beamer.

South Carolina football worst-case scenario

Because of the schedule this team plays, the worst-case scenario could see the narrative around Beamer and this program turn on a dime in the 2022 season.

Should Rattler remain a turnover-prone quarterback not living up to the raw talent, should the offensive line not improve, and should teams continue to run at will against the Gamecocks, things could go sideways this season. I’m still giving wins against Georgia State, Charlotte and South Carolina State at home, the same of which is true for Vanderbilt as well.

If those things come to pass, though, I don’t see this team beating Arkansas, which would put them at 3-4 entering the Missouri game and, while the Tigers aren’t going to be a great team, they are well-coached and could very much knock off a struggling Gamecocks team. Then, USC isn’t getting a win over the final three games in this instance, which puts them at a dismal 4-8 for the season and with their lone SEC win coming against Vandy.

South Carolina football 2022 season prediction

Even though I just called it the best-case scenario, I think that’s what South Carolina football delivers in the 2022 season. Beamer proved a lot about himself and the culture he’s building in his first season with the program and that’s not going to stop. That should thusly lead to improvement in the trenches on both sides of the ball and raising the floor of this team.

Most notably, I think it brings out the best in Rattler. The quarterback is the linchpin for just how good this team can be and his comfort level with Beamer combined with a much-needed move out of Norman is exactly what he needs to take his game to the next level, which will greatly benefit the Gamecocks as they go 7-5 on the regular season.

South Carolina football 2022 bowl game prediction

Bill Bender of Sporting News put out his 2022 bowl projections and has South Carolina taking on Kansas State in the Liberty Bowl on Dec. 28. Meanwhile, College Football News’ projections have the Gamecocks facing off with Louisville in the TicketSmarter Birmingham Bowl.

Up next: No. 40: Kansas State Wildcats

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