South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney enters the 2013 college football season with extremely high expectations. The Gamecocks' standout is heralded as a preseason Heisman Trophy favorite and one of the top prospects for next year's NFL draft should he declare.
Clowney has also played a major role in the Gamecocks' recent team success. During his freshman season, the All-American helped South Carolina win 11 games for the first time in program history, a feat they would accomplish again the following season.
However, the Gamecocks have been unsuccessful in returning to the SEC Championship game since Clowney enrolled in 2011. South Carolina represented the SEC East in the 2010 title game against Auburn, losing 56-17.
South Carolina enters the 2013 season with the No. 7 ranking, the fourth-highest among SEC teams. SEC East rivals Georgia (No. 5) and Florida (No. 10) also cracked the Top 10, both expecting to battle the Gamecocks for the division title.
As the media attention continues to follow Clowney, South Carolina enters one of the biggest seasons in program history. Can the All-American lead the Gamecocks back to the SEC Championship game?
If his time in Columbia thus far has proven anything, Clowney will likely surpass his production from last season. Following an impressive freshman campaign of 36 total tackles, 12.0 for loss and eight sacks, Clowney continued to shine as a sophomore, recording 54 tackles, 23.5 for loss and 13 sacks.
Will South Carolina Win The SEC East?
Defensively, South Carolina was one of the top teams in college football. The Gamecocks ranked No. 11 overall in total defense and No. 13 in points against (18.2 per game). However, for the Gamecocks to contend in the tough SEC East, they will need to be just as dominant offensively.
Connor Shaw enters his final season in Columbia as the projected starting quarterback. Shaw capped off his most productive season of his career with 1,956 passing yards, a 67.5 completion percentage, 17 touchdowns, seven interceptions and a 158.1 passer rating.
Shaw was also the Gamecocks second-leading rusher with 435 yards. However, the South Carolina backfield faces questions entering the upcoming season.
Despite suffering a season-ending ACL tear against Tennessee, Marcus Lattimore still managed to lead the Gamecocks in rushing with 662 yards. Mike Davis, who averaged 5.3 yards per carry in Lattimore's absence, will enter the season as the team's No. 1 running back.
Davis will finally get his opportunity to be feature back in the Gamecocks offense for an entire season. However, it is too soon to know exactly how productive he will be with little evidence of playing time.
South Carolina possesses plenty of talent on both sides of the ball, including the All-American Clowney. In a season of high expectations, the standout defensive end will be called upon to carry his team to glory, despite a tough SEC schedule.
The Gamecocks are a serious contender in the SEC this season and will likely compete to represent the SEC East in the conference title game.