The South Carolina Gamecocks are on track to an SEC title—or better yet a national title. After spending nearly a decade in the shadows of powerhouse rivals such as Tennessee, Florida and Georgia and managing mediocre seasons, the Gamecocks are proving they are ready to contend with the best on the national level.
The past two seasons, the Gamecocks have gone 8-0 against top SEC rivals Georgia, Florida, Tennessee and in-state rival Clemson. They ended the 2011 season in the top 10 and are entering National Signing Day with the 15th-ranked recruiting class.
South Carolina has turned its reputation of being an easy win into a team people look out for every season. Having spent season after season seeing glimpses of potential, the Ole Ball Coach, Steve Spurrier, finally has a team of stars and is using it fully.
Here are five reasons why the SEC could be shocked by South Carolina in 2012.
Steve Spurrier has proved the "Ole Ball Coach" has what it takes to lead the Gamecocks into the limelight. Spurrier is already making a statement in 2012 by achieving the 15th-best recruiting class going into National Signing Day. He is showing he has no problem recruiting the best.
In 2010, he led the Gamecocks to their first SEC Eastern Conference title and first SEC Championship appearance. Spurrier also nabbed his ninth overall Coach of the Year honor and seventh SEC Coach of the Year award.
That season, the Gamecocks finished 22nd, and followed that up in 2011 with the program's second 10-win season, finishing 11-2 and ranked No. 9.
Spurrier has already previewed in 2011 why he is going to shock the SEC in 2012. Without a legitimate quarterback last season, Spurrier had no choice but to use the run-first offense. This style of offense isn't Spurrier.
It proved to be effective for the Gamecocks as they had one of their best seasons to date. Able to put himself aside, Spurrier found the most effective way to win and ran with it—literally.
I have no doubt that Spurrier will use the same mindset to rock the SEC in 2012.
Connor Shaw is everything the SEC wants in a quarterback. A threat both passing and rushing, Shaw will be a key to South Carolina's offense. His quick on the draw but has fast, accurate eyes that allow him to read the field well. His effectiveness to lead his team earned him the Southeastern Conference Offensive Player of the Week back in October.
After quarterback Stephen Garcia was released halfway through the season, Shaw was brought up to starting quarterback. In just half a season, Shaw proved he deserved the spot. Shaw nailed 14 touchdowns and only six interceptions in 1,448 yards. He rushed 525 yards and picked up eight rushing touchdowns in the process.
His father called him a "gym rat," which shows in his toughness and aggressiveness on the field.
Shaw has proved that he can be explosive and is someone to watch in 2012.
If running back Marcus Lattimore can make a full recovery, he will be on track to have an explosive season in 2012.
After suffering an ACL injury in the middle of season, Lattimore's season was cut short. That doesn't mean he didn't have impressive numbers. In seven games, Lattimore rushed 818 yards with 10 touchdowns in 163 rushes. He caught 19 passes for 182 yards and one touchdown. His ability to hang on to the ball and maintain speed make him a formidable opponent on the field.
Lattimore's most impressive moments game against the toughest opponents. Against Georgia, he carried the ball only 37 times for 182 yards. Against Florida, he picked up his career-high of 212 yards in 40 carries.
If he is able to have stats like that into 2012, Lattimore could easily be on the Heisman watch list through the season.
He is quick, agile and strong. Expecting that he will recover and be ready, South Carolina should feel very confident with him on the field, and the nation should expect big numbers from this kid in 2012.
South Carolina shouldn't feel too lost in losing Melvin Ingram. Freshman Jadeveon Clowney stepped onto campus as the already-superstar that he is. In a conference built on defensive domination, it's hard to be stand out on that side of the ball. However, that isn't the case for the one-time "Mr. Football" of South Carolina.
He was the No. 1 prospect in the nation on ESPNU's 150. After juggling bids to Clemson, Alabama, LSU and Florida before signing to South Carolina on his 18th birthday, Clowney has been featured on magazine cover after cover and named first-team All-American by Rivals.com and MaxPreps.
He is a fiery talent that can explode off the ball before offensive linemen can move from their stance. He has managed six sacks. Clowney is ready to lead the Gamecocks to some championship glory.
Eyes are on Georgia in the SEC East this season. The Bulldogs are expected to dominate the SEC East and contend for the conference title. If the Gamecocks take this pivotal game, it will certainly shock some people with a win here.
October's matchup is set to be played on South Carolina turf. The Gamecocks managed the win last season in Georgia. The win largely came from Georgia turnovers. However, the defense also had a large hand in match.
Marcus Lattimore rushed for 176 yards on 27 carries and picked up a touchdown. Jadeveon Clowney got his way to Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray untouched for the sack and officially put the Bulldogs away.
Although star Melvin Ingram won't be on the field, Lattimore and Clowney are returning. These two factors can give South Carolina some confidence points.
South Carolina winning this matchup will certainly send a message it means business. Arguably, this will be one of the most-watched SEC matchups this season.