South Carolina Football: Despite QB Success, Lattimore Still Gamecocks Anchor

William RenkenCorrespondent IIISeptember 24, 2012

COLUMBIA, SC - SEPTEMBER 15: Marcus Lattamore #21 of the South Carolina Gamecocks rushes up field during the first half against the UAB Blazers in their NCAA college football game on September 15, 2012 at Williams Brice Stadium in Columbia, South Carolina. (Photo By Mary Ann Chastain/Getty Images)
Mary Ann Chastain/Getty Images

Whether it's Connor Shaw or Dylan Thompson, South Carolina fans have developed their own opinion on who they want to be the Gamecocks starter.

Whether it's the short range efficiency of the junior Shaw or the down-field bombing of the sophomore Thompson, the Gamecocks have a bonafide quarterback "discussion" on their hands. 

Time will only tell if that discussion will brew into controversy, but as the Gamecocks continue to find success on offense through the air, it's still the presence of Marcus Lattimore that is steering the South Carolina offense. After the ACL tear that halted a 2011 campaign with Heisman potential, 2012 was expected to be the year Lattimore would contend for the richest prize in college football along the likes of Matt Barkley, Denard Robinson and others.

Suffice to say, Lattimore has not had the statistical explosion everyone seemed to favor going into 2012, despite being in the top ten in the country in rushing touchdowns. Through four games, Lattimore has rushed for only 320 yards on 69 carries, which is down from the 611 he had through four games last year. Then again, he wasn't coming off major knee surgery in 2011, either.

Some commentators point to Lattimore not having the explosiveness he had prior to the injury. Again, it's not a four game season. In terms of statistics, Lattimore's numbers have been mild at best. But with South Carolina blowing out East Carolina, UAB and Missouri over the last three weeks, it's also afforded plenty of rest for Lattimore and the opportunity for passing game to develop more and more.

In each of those three games, he has been under 100 yards while only carrying the ball 46 times. But it was the game against Vanderbilt that showed what Lattimore means to this team.

In a game that could have easily derailed the Gamecocks in week one with Shaw being injured, number 21 was the rock of Gibraltar when the Gamecocks needed him, carrying the ball 23 times and amassing 110 yards with two touchdowns.

It's a performance that in hindsight might have been the most important for South Carolina thus far, especially on the road as they were against the Commodores. What it goes to show that even though he hasn't had to carry the ball as much this season, when South Carolina has needed him, Lattimore has delivered.

And they're going to need him with Georgia, LSU, Florida, and Tennessee all coming up in the heart of the SEC play.

In the end, as much as everyone wants to make the story of 2012 whether or not Shaw or Thompson should be the favored starter for Gamecocks, it's really about how Lattimore can still be the balancing force to keep defenses on guard throughout the season.