It's time. In four days, the 2012 Gamecocks, the most hyped team in the history of the program, will take the field in Tennessee, ready to take on the Vanderbilt Commodores.
It's so close.
For me, it's the greatest time of the year. It's a time to celebrate friendships, life and even the opposition.
Every year for the past four years, I have written a long and comprehensive look at the South Carolina Gamecocks. I am so excited to continue this tradition. I have never been more excited to do so.
This is going to be a magical year for the program. Buckle up and enjoy the ride.
It was a quiet offseason. There were some coaching changes (most notably, the defensive coordinator position) and transfers from players who wouldn't get to play much anyway.
There were no Stephen Garcia issues or major sightings on the police blotter. This offseason was characterized by hard work and effort.
Some highlights include:
-Steve Spurrier is back. His swagger and vocal jabs have been more prevalent this year than any other year he's been wearing Garnet and Black. This is a great sign.
-Marcus Lattimore is healthy and ready to go. He's looking unstoppable and really should challenge for the Heisman trophy.
-South Carolina signs the fourth consecutive Mr. Football in the state of South Carolina in Shaq Roland.
-The Gamecocks build a gigantic video board at Williams Brice that rivals any in the country.
-Devin Taylor decides to come back and hang with Jadeveon Clowney for his senior year, creating the most dominant pair of defensive ends in college football.
-South Carolina has two players drafted in the first round of the NFL draft. Stephon Gilmore goes to the Bills, while Melvin Ingram goes to the Chargers. Alshon Jeffery goes in the second round to the Bears and has been impressive thus far in preseason. All three have played very well.
Overall, it's been positive. On the negative side, the injury bug has seemingly hit the team hard. Injuries to Shon Carson, Akeem Auguste, Damiere Byrd, Connor Shaw, Brandon Wilds and Rico McWilliams have all been big blows to the team. However, the team has more than enough depth to keep trucking.
I've already given in-depth looks at a few of the skill position players on offense. To check out any of these pieces, click on any of the tabs below.
This unit has a really solid chance to be special, if injuries do not take hold.
Connor Shaw is special and could be an All-SEC performer. ESPN listed him as a dark-horse Heisman candidate. He has the brains and physical attributes to be a Cam Newton caliber player. That isn't an exaggeration. He just doesn't have the raw size and strength of Newton.
There aren't many running back groups as good as the Gamecocks. Marcus Lattimore, of course is a superstar and soon-to-be NFL star. Kenny Miles and Brandon Wilds are both proven commodities who can be starters (and perform at an extremely high level).
The young guns, Shon Carson and Mike Davis, are as talented as any of them, and Mike Davis looks like a legitimate superstar.
While much talk has been made of the lack of big names in the South Carolina receiving group, this is a deep, talented and fast bunch who will be able to produce. The tight ends are incredibly diverse and should help with the pass-catching aspects of the offense.
The offensive line is big, mean and improved. They will be good.
Offensive Report Card
Running Backs: A+
Tight Ends: B+
Offensive Line: B
I am torn with the defense. I think the front seven could be the best in college football, and the safeties/Spurs are very good.
But there is a chance that the defensive backs could be truly terrible. I don't think that will be the case because there is good talent there.
With a starting front four like Devin Taylor, Jadeveon Clowney, Kelcy Quarles and Byron Jerideou, the team may not have to rely on the corners as much. Let's hope.
Defensive Report Card
Defensive Ends: A+
Defensive Tackles: A
The special teams are a bit of a mystery. Patrick Fish, Tyler Hull and Landon Ard have been handling the punting duties, with Ard looking like the logical starter. They've been erratic, but show promise.
In terms of the place-kicking game, Adam Yates, Ard and newcomer Nick St. Germain (the first Gamecock scholarship kicker since Kansas City Chief Ryan Succop) have each shown some great things.
Adam Yates is efficient, but with a less powerful leg. Ard may stick with punting. While Germain has an incredible cannon for a leg, he has less finesse. It wouldn't shock me to see a kick-by-committee approach unless/until someone distinguishes themselves.
On the return side, you have the excellent Bruce Ellington, the speedy Damiere Byrd and the sure-handed Ace Sanders on punt returns.
They will be fine in that area.
Special Teams Report Card
The coaching staff is excellent. Led by the great Steve Spurrier, there is a great deal of talent and passion here.
Spurrier, of course, is the offensive mastermind.
The defensive coordinator position that was left by Ellis Johnson smoothly transferred to Lorenzo "Whammy" Ward, an amazing recruiter and aggressive coordinator. Ward was the coordinator for the Capital One Bowl last year and did an incredible job.
The other big hire for this season was special teams coordinator Joe Robinson. Formerly LSU's special teams coordinator, he's a huge upgrade that will really boost the special teams.
Full list of coaches:
|Steve Spurrier: Head Coach|
|Kirk Botkin: Linebackers/Spurs|
|Grady Brown: Secondary/Assistant Special Teams Coordinator|
|Shawn Elliott: Co-Offensive Coordinator/Offensive Line|
|Brad Lawing: Defensive Line|
|G.A. Mangus: Quarterbacks|
|Joe Robinson: Special Teams Coordinator/Tight Ends|
|Everette Sands: Running Backs|
|Jamie Speronis: Associate AD/Football Operations|
|Steve Spurrier, Jr.: Co-Offensive Coordinator/Wide Receivers/Recruiting Coordinator|
|Lorenzo Ward: Defensive Coordinator|
|Robbie Liles: Director of High School Relations|
|Scott Morgan: Recruiting Assistant|
|Patrick Shine: Administrative Coordinator for Recruiting|
8/30 at Vanderbilt
9/08 East Carolina
9/29 at Kentucky
10/13 at LSU
10/20 at Florida
11/24 at Clemson
This season will probably be defined by one game.
This is the game of the season for the Gamecocks. Georgia is ranked above the Gamecocks and will be led by All-Everything quarterback Aaron Murray. For the Gamecocks to reach their goals, they have to get through Georgia.
Luckily, it's at Williams Brice. The Gamecocks have the ability to win this one running away. It has to happen.
Has any team mystified the Gamecocks more than Arkansas? The answer is no.
On paper, the Gamecocks are the superior team. However, that hasn't mattered over the course of the past few years.
The Razorbacks have smoked the Gamecocks lately. This year, they come in without the excellent Bobby Petrino. That may make the difference.
This may be a shootout.
I think this one is pretty simple.
It's LSU, of course. The Gamecocks will be hard-pressed to come into Baton Rouge after a physical and emotional game against Georgia and win. The Bayou Bengals, even without Tyrann Mathieu, are expected to compete for the national title.
If the Gamecocks can knock out the Tigers, this year could be extremely exciting.
Marcus Lattimore should be one of the best players in college football. If he stays healthy, there is a solid chance he ends up in New York for the Heisman award ceremony. He could easily score 25 touchdowns this season.
The only thing that could keep him from having a monster year other than injury is the fact that the Gamecocks have so many great backs. He'll be fresh all the time, but he may not get as many carries. This is a great thing.
Runner-up: Connor Shaw
This one isn't nearly as easy as offense. I have four players in my mind that could have MVP-caliber performances.
However, you have to go with Jadeveon Clowney. He is going to be a destroyer of men. A super-villian of the SEC.
His speed, vision and strength are all on the elite level.
Runner-up: D.J. Swearinger
Shaq Roland could be the best receiver on the roster right now, and that isn't a slight against the quality of receivers on the roster.
He's just been that impressive in practice and scrimmages. He can climb a ladder to grab passes and has shown quick burst to go with excellent hands and timing.
He's a superstar in the making.
Runner-up: Jerrell Adams
The best NFL prospect on the team may be the best NFL draft prospect in the country.
Jadeveon Clowney, come on down. In all likelihood, he would have been the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft coming out of high school.
Now it's just a matter of time. Once he's eligible, some lucky team will get the opportunity to grab a player that has the most freakish skill set I have ever seen.
With all due respect to Marcus Lattimore, a potential top overall pick as well, this one wasn't close.
South Carolina currently has 50/1 odds to win the national title.
With South Carolina's difficult schedule and past history, this doesn't shock me.
I believe that South Carolina has its best season ever and makes its first BCS appearance. As the SEC East champion, the Gamecocks will find themselves in the Sugar Bowl.
Yup. I'm certfified bad-ass.
The Gamecocks will finish the regular season at 11-1, with the only loss coming at LSU. They will lose in the SEC championship game to that same team, making them 11-2. They get into the Sugar Bowl and beat the at-large team to finish the season 12-2 with a top-five ranking.
It's great to be a Gamecock.