During his eight-year tenure in Columbia, head coach Steve Spurrier has changed the attitude of Gamecock football from hoping to win to expecting to win.
Before he arrived, and even in some of his early years as head coach, the Gamecocks were perennially mediocre. As of 2005, they had been to only three bowl games since 1988, and were at the bottom of the SEC.
The biggest reason for their rise to prominence in recent years has been recruiting. In years past, the best players in the state of South Carolina would either go to Clemson or they would leave to go to another school, often a rival of the Gamecocks.
Spurrier has changed the identity of the football program to make it one of the elite destinations for highly-touted recruits in the country.
With “The Ole Ball Coach” at the helm, the Gamecocks have evolved into one of the heavyweights in the SEC.
In both the 2011 and 2012 seasons, South Carolina notched a school record 11 victories. They have finished in the AP Top 10 in two consecutive years and won the SEC Eastern Division for the first time in 2010.
Look for the Gamecocks to continue their rise in 2013 and win the SEC. Here are some reasons why this will happen.
If South Carolina is to have a successful 2013 campaign, they are going to need to have solid production from the quarterback position. Now that Marcus Lattimore has gone pro, both Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson have to find ways to make up for Lattimore’s offensive production.
With Lattimore in the backfield, Spurrier had gone against his instincts and had been content to run the ball. With Lattimore gone, however, look for Spurrier to revert back to his old coaching tendencies and spread the field and put more responsibility on the quarterback’s shoulders.
Spurrier is known for his quick trigger when it comes to pulling quarterbacks from a game and that is why both quarterbacks should be ready to play at a moment’s notice.
Shaw was a highly-touted quarterback coming out of high school and he has improved his play every year.
Last year, he threw 17 touchdowns with only seven interceptions. The thing that separates Shaw and can make him an elite player this coming season is his mobility and toughness. These two attributes are requirements for most good quarterbacks, but they are especially vital going up against bruising SEC defenses.
These attributes also make it more likely that Shaw will get hurt (as he has been injury prone throughout his career) and Thompson will see significant playing time in 2013.
As witnessed in the Outback Bowl, Thompson is more than capable of leading the Gamecocks. In limited action last year, Thompson threw 10 touchdowns with just two interceptions.
Spurrier has long been thought of an offensive guru. Although the Gamecocks lose one of the best players in program history, look for them to generate more offense through the air.
Lattimore was a great player, but do not overestimate his offensive contributions. South Carolina did not lose a game after Lattimore was hurt and averaged 32 points per game in his absence.
There is no such thing as an easy schedule in the SEC. The Gamecocks' 2013 schedule, however, is relatively mild by SEC standards.
The toughest test will come in the second game of the season against Georgia in Athens. Although the Bulldogs will be highly ranked, the Gamecocks will not be intimidated. They have beaten the Bulldogs in each of their last three meetings, including a 45-42 victory in Athens in 2011.
If South Carolina can get past Georgia, they will be favored in every remaining game.
The Gamecocks play a weak non-conference schedule and the only SEC West opponents they face are Arkansas and Mississippi State. Although they play at Arkansas, South Carolina will be heavy favorites in both of those games.
A tricky aspect about the 2013 schedule is that the Gamecocks play three straight road games against Arkansas, Tennessee and Missouri. Although these teams are down and are not a part of the elite of the SEC, going on the road in conference is no easy task and South Carolina could be susceptible to an upset in one of these games.
The toughest stretch of the season comes at the end. The Gamecocks host Florida and Clemson to close out the season. (These games sandwich around a cupcake game against FCS Coastal Carolina.)
South Carolina has had recent success over both of their traditional foes in recent years. They have beaten Clemson four years in a row and have beaten the Gators two of the last three years.
These are two of South Carolina’s biggest rivals and although Clemson is not a part of the SEC, and the game has no bearing on the Gamecocks’ chances of winning the SEC, it is more important than a conference game—Palmetto State bragging rights are on the line.
The Florida game could very well be a play-in game for the SEC Championship. These are two very evenly matched teams, but the difference against both Florida and Clemson will be the Gamecocks’ home field advantage.
Williams-Brice Stadium is one of the toughest places to play in the country and once Sandstorm starts blaring through the speakers and the “Cockpit” starts rocking, the Gamecocks are hard to beat.
After years of futility with only rare glimpses of success, South Carolina has become one of the elite programs in the country. The next step in building a powerhouse is winning a conference championship and the Gamecocks have the potential to do just that in 2013.