South Carolina Football: 5 Reasons to Be Optimistic in 2012

Adam Garrett@lifeofagamecockAnalyst IJanuary 3, 2012

South Carolina Football: 5 Reasons to Be Optimistic in 2012

0 of 5

    Steve Spurrier and the South Carolina Gamecocks finished off the 2011 season with a bang by winning the Capital One Bowl by a score of 30-13 over Nebraska.

    The win increased the Gamecocks win total to 11 wins on the season, which happens to be the first time in school history.

    There are a lot of big things happening right now in South Carolina football. The program has 20 total wins over the past two seasons, which is the most in a two-year stretch for the Gamecocks. They'll return a lot of their offensive firepower from this season and plenty of talent on the defensive side as well. They also have Coach Spurrier and the majority of the coaching staff returning.

    Expectations are running high in Columbia, and there's plenty of reasons to be optimistic for the 2012 season coming up.

    Here are a few reasons why...

1: The Emergence of Connor Shaw at Quarterback

1 of 5

    The Gamecocks got a blessing in disguise when Connor Shaw took over as the full-time starter midway through the 2011 season.

    Shaw was able to get valuable in-game experience and thus "grow up" while on the job. His performances were shaky early but enough to get USC by some tough opponents. His last two performances of the year against Clemson and Nebraska give you a glimpse into the future of the South Carolina offense with Shaw at quarterback.

    Shaw threw for 210 yards and three touchdowns while rushing for 107 yards and one touchdown against Clemson in the season finale. He then followed that up 230 yards passing with two touchdowns and rushed for 42 yards and one score against Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl.

    The important part of those two performances was Shaw had zero turnovers in those two games.

    This is the type of player you get with Shaw. He's a smart quarterback with the mobility and enough physical attributes to win you the football game.

    He'll be a big reason for any success the Gamecocks have in 2012. I think Coach Spurrier has found himself a winner here in Shaw.

2: Return of Marcus Lattimore from Injury

2 of 5

    Marcus Lattimore was a dark-horse Heisman candidate in 2011. He was putting on a show through the first seven games before going down with a season-ending knee injury against Mississippi State.

    South Carolina was able to find a running game with players like Kenny Miles and Brandon Wilds, but the Gamecocks would have been much better off with Lattimore in the lineup.

    The injury to Lattimore was a severe one, but those around the program know he's the type of player who will go above and beyond to return to full health. You should almost expect Lattimore to be a better version of himself after injury than he was before.

    This offense is finding it's groove under Connor Shaw. and the offensive line should be better in 2012. Throw Lattimore in the mix, and the Gamecocks could have a much improved offense next season.

    Lattimore will be a key part of the Gamecocks' run to compete for the SEC Championship.

3: Influx of New Talent from 2012 Recruiting Class

3 of 5

    The Gamecocks are getting to a point where they are stockpiling talent and building depth.

    The 2012 recruiting class is another one that should help build the Gamecocks into an SEC Championship contender. Several recruits have the talent to help right away, and they are a big reason for optimism next season.

    Wide receiver Shaq Roland is the top player in the state of South Carolina and is a guy who could be expected to step in for the soon-to-be departed Alshon Jeffery. Along with Roland are offensive lineman Brock Stadnik, wide receiver Jody Fuller, linebacker Kaiwan Lewis and tight end Jerrell Adams.

    All of these players could find themselves in the lineup sooner than later. The rankings for the Gamecocks' recruiting class are all in the Top 15 or better range, so there is some supreme talent heading to Columbia later this year.

    This influx of talent should have the Gamecocks aiming high in 2012.

4: Expectations of Another Highly Ranked Defensive Unit

4 of 5

    South Carolina's defense was a main driving force behind the 11-win season for the Gamecocks this year.

    This defensive unit ended up in the top 10 in several national rankings, thanks to its performances throughout the year including the Capital One Bowl.

    Now the Gamecocks could lose a few players off this defense to the NFL like cornerback Stephon Gilmore and defensive end Devin Taylor. Even with those two potential losses, the expectations are there for another stellar year for the South Carolina defense.

    The secondary will return veteran players like safeties D.J.Swearinger and DeVonte Holloman. They'll also return cornerback Akeem Auguste from a red-shirt season, along with dynamic true freshman defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. Most expect Devin Taylor to return, so he and Clowney could end up forming the top defensive end duo in the nation.

    There should also be an emergence from players like defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles and cornerback Victor Hampton along with some red-shirted players from this year like cornerback Ahmad Christian, linebacker Cedric Cooper and defensive tackle Phillip Dukes.

    This unit will be under new leadership with defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward at the helm, but if his production in the Capital One Bowl means anything, then South Carolina is in for a treat on defense in 2012.

5: A Rejuvenated Steve Spurrier at the Helm

5 of 5

    Steve Spurrier sure does seem to be a happy guy these days.

    Can you blame him?

    He just reeled off 11 wins for a South Carolina that has never done that before in its history. This could quite possibly be the best coaching job Spurrier has ever had in his storied college career.

    The funny thing is that he doesn't appear to be done at all.

    It's almost like he's rejuvenated for the long run thanks to the success of the Gamecocks the past few seasons. He's got a lot of improvements going on with facilities, recruiting continues to be a success for the Gamecocks and he's got the support of a rabid fanbase behind him.

    Spurrier has brought a lot to the table so far at South Carolina and I believe this is just the beginning.

    A refreshed Spurrier would be great for college football.

    And especially for the Gamecocks.