South Carolina Football: 2013 Expectations for Gamecocks' Top Stars

Nick LantzCorrespondent IIFebruary 19, 2013

South Carolina Football: 2013 Expectations for Gamecocks' Top Stars

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    With the potential return of Jadeveon Clowney as well as some big-time starters, the South Carolina Gamecocks will be a must-watch ball club in 2013.

    Juniors Marcus Lattimore and Ace Sanders, who have been prime contributors for Carolina, decided to bolt for the NFL early.

    Even with these losses, the Gamecocks bring back some exceptional talent.

    Clowney will anchor one of the best defensive lines in all of college football. On offense, both Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson return as quarterbacks and will have the pleasure of throwing the ball to versatile receiver Bruce Ellington.

    It is time to look at South Carolina's top returners and the expectations for the 2013 campaign.

Connor Shaw, QB

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    The 2012 season was difficult for Connor Shaw, as he had to play through injury.

    Shaw missed two games last season, including the regular-season finale against SC's rival, the Clemson Tigers. He had surgery on his left foot in early January and will miss spring practices.

    Despite being banged up, Shaw played in the Gamecocks' 33-28 Outback Bowl victory over the Michigan Wolverines. In fact, he played exceptionally well, throwing for 224 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for a team-high 96 yards.

    With Shaw missing spring practice, Dylan Thompson will take the majority of reps at quarterback. Thompson filled in for Shaw when he was sidelined and was very efficient in doing so.

    The 6'3" sophomore saw action in nine games, compiling over 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns through the air. He, too, played in the Outback Bowl, completing seven of his 10 attempts for 117 yards and two touchdowns.

    Whether Shaw or Thompson gets the starting nod in the fall, the Gamecocks have two quarterbacks who have some serious talent.

    Shaw can run effectively (435 rush yards in 2012) and is efficient in the pocket, completing 67.5 percent of his passes. Thompson also has a strong arm and topped 300 yards passing in both of his starts.

    Either way, South Carolina will get major production from the quarterback position in 2013.

Bruce Ellington, WR

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    With receiver Ace Sanders heading to the NFL, Bruce Ellington will be the top weapon for South Carolina in the fall.

    Ellington will likely have a monstrous junior season as the team's go-to receiver and playmaker.

    What makes Ellington so special is his versatility. He can make big plays in the receiving game as well as the return game. Ellington also plays basketball for the Gamecocks.

    In 2012, he caught 40 passes for 600 yards and seven touchdowns.

    Ellington also returned 18 kickoffs for an average of 22.6 yards a return. He led the team in all-purpose yards with 1,034.

    He caught all of his touchdowns in Carolina's final eight games, including two against Clemson with Thompson under center.

    This season, Ellington figures to get many more touches on offense. He led the team in receiving yards last season and will undoubtedly do so again in 2013.

    The dynamic receiver could very easily top 1,000 yards receiving and will be targeted more in the end zone without Sanders.

Jadeveon Clowney, DE

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    Much attention has been put on Jadeveon Clowney and whether or not he will take a year off.

    Ol' ball coach Steve Spurrier claims that Clowney is looking forward to playing with the Gamecocks in 2013.

    With Clowney back, the South Carolina defense will be one of the best in the country.

    He had 13 sacks and 23.5 tackles for loss last season for SC.

    The explosive defensive end will likely go down as one of the most memorable players in South Carolina Gamecocks history.

    Clowney will return as one of the best players in the entire country in 2013. He will look to improve on his already-impressive numbers, and could easily be the top pick in the 2014 NFL draft.

    He is a true game-changer, and opposing offenses will need to be on their heels every time Clowney steps on the field.

Jimmy Legree, CB

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    Jimmy Legree will be the top defensive back for South Carolina in 2013.

    He really stepped up last season after being moved from free safety to cornerback in the spring.

    Legree led the team in interceptions with three and finished with 44 tackles and six knocked-down passes.

    He also returned an interception 34 yards for a touchdown in a 48-10 smashing of East Carolina.

    With Clowney causing trouble with opposing quarterbacks, Legree can benefit as he waits to make his break for the ball.

    Often times, quarterbacks will be forced to make quick and sometimes dangerous passes. This is where Legree can stand ready to make a play. He should have an even stronger 2013 season.

Chaz Sutton, DE

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    South Carolina brings back a very strong defensive line in 2013.

    With Clowney, Chaz Sutton and Kelcy Quarles rushing the passer, the Gamecocks form a strong defensive front.

    Clowney will obviously draw the most attention, which leaves the door wide open for Chaz Sutton.

    Last season, Sutton had five sacks, seven tackles for loss and forced two fumbles.

    He now will fill in for Devin Taylor at defensive end, where he will often have the opportunity to face one-on-one matchups to get into the backfield.

    The attention Clowney gets will give Sutton an amazing opportunity to do big things this season.