The South Carolina Gamecocks are coming off of one of their most successful seasons in recent years. They won 11 games and the Capital One Bowl, their first bowl victory since 2006.
They are returning a total of 13 starters, including some key players in key positions. As fans saw this past year, the Gamecocks are capable of producing stars who are ready to move on and succeed at the next level. USC had six players taken in the 2012 NFL Draft, including two in the first round.
As these players move forward with their careers, the next set in Columbia will fill their spots. Coach Steve Spurrier has shown throughout his years of coaching that he can mentor and develop some of College Football's and the NFL's biggest stars.
Here are five South Carolina Gamecocks who will leave a legacy in Williams Brice Stadium and will continue their success in the NFL.
After a torn ACL abruptly ended his 2011 season, Marcus Lattimore is back on the field and ready to show the world that he never lost a step.
During his freshman season, Lattimore blew Gamecock fans and the entire college football country away. He rushed for nearly 1,200 yards and 20 touchdowns. Even in his seven-game sophomore campaign, he had over 800 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Lattimore has quickly become the face of South Carolina football. Even the smallest football fan on campus knows who he is. The Gamecocks are certainly glad to have their star back. His speed and agility will constantly be tested, but with his strength and passion, he will fight through and find himself a successful 2012 season.
Lattimore is a junior this year, and he could have the option of leaving and entering the draft when the season is over. His size and body frame fits one of the NFL running back prototypes. His strength and power allow him to take it between the tackles and pound and breakdown defenses. His shifty moves and breakaway speed will help him dash by defenses, and he also has the ability to catch it outside of the backfield.
With his dual threat and incredible skills and physicality, no matter when Marcus Lattimore decides to move on to the next level, he will be sure to hear his name called on draft day and make a huge impact for whichever team he plays for.
After his first season in Columbia, Jadeveon Clowney showed that he had lots of potential, and his incredible athletic ability has gotten the attention of coaches not only around the SEC but also around the entire nation.
The nation's No. 1 recruit in 2011 created a buzz around the South Carolina campus and fanbase. In his few appearances off the bench last year, Clowney had 36 tackles, eight sacks and five forced fumbles. With the departure of Melvin Ingram, Clowney will now be expected to step in and have an increased and more significant role.
The experience he gained on-the-field and having the spring and summer to become more familiar with the playbook will allow Clowney to become more seasoned and grow to have more of an impact. He will also have this summer to get even bigger, faster and stronger. His strength and conditioning workouts will develop him into a physically and more complete defensive end.
Clowney is still young and has lots to learn, but he has already exhibited NFL-type ability. His similar build and play to Melvin Ingram is very impressive to scouts and coaches. After Clowney leaves his mark on the Gamecocks, he will certainly find himself disrupting offenses at the next level.
On the other side of the South Carolina defensive line is Devin Taylor.
Taylor benefited from Melvin Ingram's presence, which allowed him to have a breakthrough-type year in 2011. He could have easily left for the NFL draft, but his decision to stay is in the Gamecocks' favor. His long, lean build and incredible pass rushing speed and strength will be even more on display.
Instead of Ingram on the other side, he now has Jadeveon Clowney, but Clowney is very similar to his predecessor. With this lethal defensive duo, offenses will have to focus on one and leave the other one at full throttle.
Devin Taylor has already proven he has what it takes to be in the NFL, but his decision to return will help him refine his game and improve his overall ability and leadership skills.
One of the biggest signings in South Carolina's 2012 recruiting class is wide receiver Shaq Roland. He will be expected to step in and fill the role previously held by Alshon Jeffery.
Roland has decent size, standing at 6'1" and 200 pounds. He has lightening speed that gets him down the field in a hurry, and his incredible athletic ability and hands allow him to out-jump any defensive back and to make any grab. This playmaking ability may also make him a factor on special teams as a returner.
The freshman will definitely not put up Jeffery-like numbers right away, but with time and experience by the end of his Gamecock career, he certainly will be close. Quarterback Connor Shaw needs a passing target and threat, and Shaq Roland will be that player.
If his development and role mimics Alshon's, then Roland looks to have a bright future not only in college but also at the next level.
The SEC has a knack for producing outstanding centers, and T.J. Johnson is no different.
The three-year starter has had to deal with many changes in offensive personnel but still seems to remain a solid force inside. His growth as a leader has been unmatched, and he will be counted on one last time to take the reins and guide this young offense down the field.
His build and big hands allow him to protect his quarterback, and his great strength allows him to create holes up the middle for whichever running back is squirting through. He also has incredible footwork which allows him to be quick and shifty when defensive linemen try to move by.
NFL teams are always in need of centers and offensive linemen because of how critical they are and how rough the game can be on them. Different formations also require a variety of personnel upfront. Johnson has the versatility to play in any position along the frontline and the ability to protect those depending on him.
He has been the unknown, unsung hero for the South Carolina Gamecocks throughout his time in Columbia, and he will certainly have this same role at the next level.