South Carolina Football: 10 New Year's Resolutions for the Gamecocks

Adam Garrett@lifeofagamecockAnalyst IDecember 28, 2011

South Carolina Football: 10 New Year's Resolutions for the Gamecocks

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    2012 is getting closer and closer with each passing day, and South Carolina football is on the rise.

    The Gamecocks are currently preparing to face the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the Capital One Bowl in a very important game that could put this finishing touches on the 2011 season.

    Next year has a lot of promise for South Carolina.

    Since it's that time of the year, let's take a look at some New Year's Resolutions for the Gamecocks in 2012.

No. 1: Win First Game of 2012

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    No, I'm not talking about the season opener against Vanderbilt in 2012.

    I'm talking about the Capital One Bowl on Jan. 2 against Nebraska. This would be a nice statement win for the Gamecocks over a storied program like Nebraska on national television.

    Bowl games haven't been kind to South Carolina the last three years, but the hope is Connor Shaw will bring a balanced attack with the Gamecocks in Orlando.

    The Gamecocks have what it takes to beat Nebraska. They just have to go out an execute their game plan.

No. 2: Finish Strong in 2012 Recruiting

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    It's no mystery that the secret to success the last few years for the Gamecocks has been their strong recruiting classes.

    The 2012 class is no different for South Carolina. Already committed some dynamic players committed like wide receivers Shaq Roland, Jody Fuller and Kwinton Smith. There are some big offensive linemen like Brock and Clayton Stadnik, Joe Harris and Cody Waldrop.

    The meat of this class is intact at the moment with 20 commitments.

    South Carolina has room for a few more top prospects, and if they can finish strong, then the continuation of South Carolina's success seems evident.

    Look for the Gamecocks to try and pick from Jordan Diggs, Chaz Elder, Tyriq McCord, Elijah Shumate and Mike Davis to finish their 2012 class. If they can land commitments from these guys, then the future is heading in the right direction for South Carolina.

No. 3: Find a Great Linebacker Coach

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    The Gamecocks solved one mystery on Tuesday when Coach Steve Spurrier announced that defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward will get the full-time job at South Carolina.

    Ward stepping up to fill Ellis Johnson's spot still leaves the defense one coach short, and the Gamecocks will look to fill that position with the hire of a linebacker coach.

    Names are scarce at the moment, but I would imagine that USC has a few guys in mind and look for this hire to be done early in 2012.

No. 4: Improve the Balance on Offense in 2012

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    The Gamecocks struggled at times this season with their balance on offense.

    Most opposing teams knew they would be a run-heavy offense with Marcus Lattimore in the backfield, but the aerial attack never took off quite like it should.

    2012 looks like a golden opportunity for the Gamecocks to improve the balance on offense. Connor Shaw spent the year becoming the full-time starter midway through the season, and it was a learning experience. However, it all came together in the Clemson game, and this is exactly what South Carolina should look for next season.

    It should be an improved year for the offensive line along with a healthy Lattimore and running backs Shon Carson and Brandon Wilds. Shaw will have an offseason to be "The Guy" for South Carolina at quarterback, so all this should spell improvement in 2012.

    Steve Spurrier may finally get his Fun and Gun offense back.

No. 5: Hire Running Backs Coach

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    South Carolina lost running backs coach Jay Graham to SEC East division rival Tennessee earlier this month.

    It was quite a blow to the staff and recruiting efforts for the Gamecocks, but USC fans should not worry.

    There will be plenty of attention on this position thanks to Marcus Lattimore. The Gamecocks should have plenty of candidates lining up to fill this job, and Steve Spurrier will be able to make a fantastic hire here.

    They obviously would like to a have a strong recruiter and someone who can mesh well with the current offensive staff.

    A few names like Illinois' DeAndre Smith, Texas A&M's Randy Jordan and Wisconsin's Thomas Hammock have all been mentioned.

    Look for the Gamecocks to have this hire in place shortly after the bowl season is finished.

No. 6: Continue Strong Defensive Performances in 2012

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    It's been a great year for the Gamecocks on defense in 2011.

    South Carolina finds themselves among the nation's elite in defensive categories.

    The Gamecocks need to find a way to continue this strong performance in 2012, but I have a feeling they'll be able to do so. If the Gamecocks can hang on to Stephon Gilmore, they should have a very veteran-heavy secondary with Gilmore and Akeem Auguste at cornerbacks with DeVonte Holloman and D.J. Swearinger at safety.

    The defensive line will lose two stalwarts in Melvin Ingram and Travian Robertson, but expect Jadeveon Clowney to emerge as a superstar in 2012 to make up for the loss of those two.

    It's not out of the question for the Gamecocks to be in the top defensive rankings in college football in 2012. All of this returning talent may increase the expectations of this defense.

    I believe that's a good thing for this football team.

No. 7: Find a Breakout Wide Receiver

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    It's widely expected that South Carolina wide receiver Alshon Jeffery will take his talents to the NFL in 2012.

    South Carolina's star wide receiver has been a thorn in the side of most teams that the Gamecocks have faced the past three seasons.

    Without Jeffery around, who can the Gamecocks turn to?

    It'll be extremely important for a breakout wide receiver to step up and become the main threat for the Gamecocks at wide receiver.

    There should be plenty of options between current players like Ace Sanders, Damiere Byrd, Shamier Jeffery and KJ Brent. South Carolina also has incoming players Shaq Roland, Kwinton Smith and Jody Fuller.

    The talent is there. The question is who will be the guy to step up to the plate? I think Steve Spurrier will be okay with any of these guys as long as somebody can fill Jeffery's shoes.

    Tough task there for these players, but expect it to happen.

No. 8: Stay Healthy for 2012 Season

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    The Gamecocks suffered through some major injuries this year.

    Running backs Marcus Lattimore, Shon Carson and Matt Coffee all had season-ending knee injuries this year. USC also lost starting left tackle Kyle Nunn to a back injury early in the season. Add injuries to running backs Kenny Miles and Eric Baker, and this Gamecock team suffered through a lot.

    Somehow, though, this team found a will to win and finished the regular season at 10-2.

    Think of where South Carolina could have been if the team was healthy all year long?

    Injuries are a part of football, and they will happen. The hope for South Carolina in 2012 is that these injuries will be minor and that they can stay healthy for the 2012 season.

    USC proved a lot by closing out strong with a player like Marcus Lattimore, but the Gamecocks could certainly use a player like him on the field than off of it.

    Let's hope 2012 will be a injury-free year for the Gamecocks.

No. 9: Find a Consistent Return Threat at Kick and Punt Returner

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    Ace Sanders and Bruce Ellington both dazzled the Gamecock fanbase with a few big returns this year.

    The only problem was it didn't happen enough.

    Sanders had a punt return for a touchdown against East Carolina in the season opener, but other than that was non-existent as a punt returner.

    Bruce Ellington had a few big returns but just didn't do it on a consistent basis.

    Both players showcased the speed and elusiveness that you need at these positions, but we need to see more. Maybe it's return coverage for the Gamecocks that needs improvement. Maybe we need to see a new face or two returning kicks and punts for the Gamecocks.

    There needs to be an emphasis on improving kick and punt returns for the Gamecocks in 2012. and between these two players, Damiere Byrd, Shon Carson and a few others, there should be plenty of guys capable of handling the job.

No. 10: Return to SEC Championship Game

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    South Carolina got a taste of glory when it won the SEC East division title and faced Auburn in the 2010 SEC Championship Game.

    This year saw the Gamecocks fall just a few points shy in a loss to Auburn that could have sent the Gamecocks back to Atlanta for the second straight year.

    2012 should be a strong enough Gamecock team to make a return trip to Atlanta and win the SEC East division title. The rumored SEC schedule for South Carolina looks tough with games against LSU and Arkansas, while Georgia doesn't have to play Alabama, Arkansas or LSU for the second straight year. They get no help from the potential schedule for next year, but that's no excuse for South Carolina.

    The talent is there and this coaching staff wants more than just the taste of success. They want it all.

    This should be the main focus for South Carolina in 2012 and the one New Year's Resolution the Gamecocks should work the hardest for in order for it to come true.