COLUMBIA - Graduate transfer Collin Hill will start at quarterback for South Carolina when it opens against No. 15 Tennessee on Sept. 26.
Gamecocks head coach Will Muschamp announced the decision on Thursday. Hill arrived at South Carolina from Colorado State and beat out last year's true freshman starter, Ryan Hilinski.
Muschamp said both Hill and Hilinski had strong camps. Hill had an edge, the coach said, in playing under former Rams head coach Mike Bobo, who is now South Carolina's offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
"I thought both guys had outstanding training camps," Muschamp said. "We can win with both guys, bottom line. Ryan's had a really good camp. Obviously, there was an advantage for Collin playing for Coach Bobo before. Schematically, there are some things that helped him, but we can win with both guys.
"It was a very difficult decision," continued the head coach. "You look at our three scrimmages, which are the three benchmarks really in the evaluation. Ryan was the player of the day in the first one; Collin was in the second. Both of them played extremely well in the third. It was very difficult, a hard decision, but that's the decision that we made. As I've said before, we can win with both guys. We have great confidence in both guys and both guys know that."
Hill made 11 starts during four years at Colorado State where he dealt with three knee ligament injuries. He passed for 3,323 with 23 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in 18 career games with the Rams.
Hilinski was a highly regarded freshman who had gained the backup role behind 4-year starter Jake Bentley. Bentley suffered an injury at the end of the season opener and was lost for the year. Hilinski was the starter the rest of the season.
Hilinski made 11 starts last season and averaged 214 yards passing, sixth overall in the Southeastern Conference and the most among freshmen.
Hilinski had his own injuries last season, including a meniscus tear in his left knee.
Muschamp is tired of dwelling on his team's struggles. This season might make that even harder not to do.
Muschamp starts his fifth season with the Gamecocks desperate to get his team headed back in a positive direction. He led South Carolina to a pair of winning seasons in 2017 and 2018 before last year's disastrous 4-8 campaign that included losses in five of its last six games.
Adding two more Southeastern teams - in South Carolina's case, Auburn and Mississippi - to a schedule that already included top 10 opponents Georgia, Louisiana State and Florida is not likely to help get back on the winning track.
Muschamp is tired of the negativity some have voiced about his program's direction. He believes his team has put the past in the past and is poised for improvement.
"We've made changes and I think we've made the right changes," Muschamp said. "You can continue to bring up the negativity of it, or you can be constructive and learn what you've got to do."
Last year's flop led Muschamp to overhaul the staff, including bringing in his third offensive coordinator in five seasons in Bobo. He took over for Bryan McClendon, now the passing game coordinator with Oregon.
In all, South Carolina changed five on-field assistants, its strength and conditioning coach, and its directors of player personnel and player development.
Muschamp liked how the new group worked with players in the five spring sessions South Carolina had before the coronavirus pandemic shut down athletic activities in March. He believes that bond has continued to grow since workouts resumed in June and into fall camp.
The coach has been pleased with how his players have taken to the bubble-like environment brought on by the global pandemic.
"I choose to control what I can control and that's in this building, trusting our players to make mature, responsible decisions," Muschamp said.
Some other things to watch for during South Carolina's season:
South Carolina could have more problems in jump-starting its struggling running attack with the loss of 4-star freshman MarShawn Lloyd, who tore a knee ligament at fall practice and is out for the season. The Gamecocks' two top rushers from last year in Tavien Feaster and Rico Dowdle were seniors.
The Gamecocks lost one of their best defensive linemen in Javon Kinlaw, a first-round pick of the San Francisco 49ers this past spring. They're hoping that 5-star freshman defensive lineman Jordan Burch can make a quick impact up front. Muschamp said Burch is "extremely bright" and competitive in all situations on and off the field so far.
The Gamecocks' two additional games in the 10-game, all-SEC-opponents schedule are a home contest with Auburn on Oct. 17 and at Mississippi on Nov. 14. South Carolina lost its annual state rivalry game with Clemson and non-conference games with Coastal Carolina, East Carolina and FCS opponent Wofford. South Carolina athletic director Ray Tanner has said he will look to schedule future games with those three latter schools to make up for this year's cancellations.
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