Since 2010, the Gamecocks have been preaching consistency, improvement and toughness. Each year, the preseason expectations get bigger and bigger. In 2010, the expectation was to win the SEC East, and it happened.
In 2011, the team expected to compete for an SEC title. While they didn't accomplish this thanks to Georgia's cake schedule and a terrible performance against Auburn, they did reach 11 wins for the first time in team history, which is not an accomplishment to sneeze at.
Enter 2012. The Gamecocks lose two major playmakers in Melvin Ingram on defense and Alshon Jeffery on offense. Beyond that, the Gamecocks return is its most talented team in history.
All bets are off for this Gamecock team. They are now a perennial favorite in the east and have been in the discussion since the 2009 season. They now boast one of the greatest offensive players in the country in Marcus Lattimore (when healthy) and one of the most exciting and explosive players on defense in Jadeveon Clowney.
Offensively, even if Lattimore isn't at 100 percent, there is potential for this to be the Gamecocks' most efficient and explosive offense since Steve Spurrier arrived. Connor Shaw grew in every game last year. With a full offseason as the unquestioned starter, he could be an All-SEC quarterback, given his talent and skill set.
The running game will be beastly regardless of whether or not No. 21 is ready to go. Kenny Miles, Brandon Wilds, Shon Carson and company will be the battering rams the team needs.
Who is the Gamecocks' key player in 2012?
The wide receiver position is obviously a question, but there is more than enough talent there. If one receiver steps up to be a go-to guy or they run an effective receiving by committee design, the passing game will be excellent.
Defensively, Devin Taylor said it best. They are reloading, not rebuilding. Clowney takes the vacant spot left by Melvin Ingram and there will be no drop off in talent there. In fact, he may actually be an improvement over Ingram, which is a scary thought.
The linebackers are underrated and hard working, and the defensive backs are talented. Victor Hampton is a star in the making and Devonte Holloman could have a huge year.
2012 is by far the Gamecocks' best chance of winning an SEC title if they can make it to the title game. They will be a matchup problem for any team they face. The brutality of the schedule will make it difficult, but these Gamecocks can rise up to any challenge.
It truly is a great time to be a Gamecock.