South Carolina is entering a period of time that has seen unprecedented success. The team has built quality depth and seems to be reloading for another go-around.
This year, they will be watching a few areas extra closely. Either through graduation or departure for the NFL, new faces will have to step in and show why they deserve to wear the garnet and black. While every position is a battle, these positions will truly shape the course of the Gamecocks' season.
Here are the five position battles to watch heading into 2012.
With Alshon Jeffery leaving for the NFL, one starting wide receiver position is open. However, with the influx of talent coming in, more than just one spot will be open.
Ace Sanders, Damiere Byrd, Shaq Roland, Bruce Ellington, Kwinton Smith, Shamier Jeffery, Nick Jones, D.L. Moore, K.J. Brent, Lamar Scruggs, DeAngelo Smith
Quite possibly, the most exciting and difficult of the position battles, South Carolina is loaded at wide receiver.
Sanders is already a starter and will probably keep it. He's a great player who made clutch catches in 2011. Bruce Ellington and Nick Jones contributed a great deal. The most exciting prospects are a couple of players who haven't taken the field yet. Shamier Jeffery, Shaq Roland and K.J. Brent all look like big time receivers.
The rest are interchangeable, but solid in reserve roles.
Possibly the most critical of the position battles, the Gamecocks lose Melvin Ingram (who was technically a defensive end, but played as a tackle often) and Travian Robertson (an underrated and under-appreciated player).
Kelcy Quarles, Philip Dukes, Deon Green, Byron Jerideou, Gerald Dixon Jr., Corey Robinson, J.T. Surratt, Aldrick Fordham
There is a great deal of young talent on this team, but it's a great deal of unproven talent. Kelcy Quarles will be a starter and will be an All-SEC talent. Philip Dukes, Deon Green and Gerald Dixon Jr. all have a tremendous amount of upside. Aldrick Fordham is technically a defensive end, but he can play tackle.
My best guess at second starter is Byron Jerideou, who is one of the strongest players on the team.
Stephon Gilmore is a great corner, and he will do very well in the NFL. South Carolina has a great deal of great corner talent coming in with the 2012 recruiting class, along with some solid hold-overs.
Akeem Auguste, Vic Hampton, Jimmy Legree, Ahmad Christian, Caderious Sanders, Kadetrix Marcus, Jordan Diggs, Chaz Elder
No question, Akeem Auguste and Vic Hampton are the starters here. However, depth is going to be a real issue. Jordan Diggs is an athletic freshman. Chaz Elder is projected as a safety, but he could get a look here.
Beyond that, the talent is limited. It will be interested to see which guys step up.
People mix the safety position up with the SPUR position that the Gamecocks like to use. While the physical requirements are similar, the SPUR is more like a roaming linebacker/safety hybrid. Safety is a position of interest heading into 2012, because some SPUR players may be suited for it.
Sharrod Golightly, D.J. Swearinger, Devonte Holloman, Marquis Roberts, Chaz Elder
Devonte Holloman is listed as a SPUR. D.J. Swearinger and Sharrod Golightly are safeties. However, there are some who think that Devonte may be a better safety and Swearinger a SPUR. Sharrod can lay the wood on anyone. Marquis Roberts is an interesting prospect, and Chaz Elder could fit right in at safety.
Yes, I know what you are thinking: Marcus Lattimore all the way, right? Well, maybe. I'll explain...
Marcus Lattimore, Shon Carson, Brandon Wilds, Kenny Miles, Kendric Salley, Mike Davis
There is absolutely no question that Marcus Lattimore is the starter. However, there is absolutely no guarantee that he will be completely himself once he is healed. Even if he is, the Gamecocks have to rely on the backups more to give his surgically-repaired knee more rest.
So, Shon Carson, Brandon Wilds and Kenny Miles become the guys fighting immediately for time. If Kenny Miles returns, he should get a serious look as the No. 2 guy. He showed immense improvement at the end of the year.
Brandon Wilds proved he was an SEC-caliber starting back. Then, you have the exciting potential of Shon Carson, who blew everyone away with his ability in the spring and was originally listed as the No. 2 guy heading into the season. An injury took him out of the equation last year, but he will be back.
Then, you have potentially two highly-regarded freshman. Kendric Salley is already committed and shows great burst. South Carolina looks like the favorite of Mike Davis, a top target of many schools. If he comes in, he will immediately begin shooting up the depth chart.