Looking Ahead to South Carolina Football in 2014

Zach GillilandFeatured ColumnistJanuary 21, 2014

Looking Ahead to South Carolina Football in 2014

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    Mike Davis will be one of the top running backs in the nation next season.
    Mike Davis will be one of the top running backs in the nation next season.Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    The season for South Carolina wrapped up New Year’s Day in the Capital One Bowl, with a 34-24 victory over the Wisconsin Badgers.

    Next season, Carolina will look for its fourth straight year with 11 wins. They may even look to capitalize and take it to the next level.

    Winning the conference championship is still a goal on the table for the Gamecocks. Even with the good seasons under Steve Spurrier, they have yet to win the SEC title.

    Next season they lose some key guys, but also keep a lot of good players. There will be a new man running the offense, but the same Heisman-worthy running back taking the carries.

    The schedule for next year is more challenging than this year, with some tough road games.

    Can Spurrier and the Gamecocks continue their success next season and win the SEC?

New Era at Quarterback

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    Dylan Thompson may be entering his first season as the starter, but he has plenty of experience.
    Dylan Thompson may be entering his first season as the starter, but he has plenty of experience.Peter Aiken/Getty Images

    In 2013, Connor Shaw was one of the most underrated quarterbacks in college football. He passed for 2,447 yards and 24 touchdowns. The most impressive stat is that he threw only one interception.

    Now that he's gone, Dylan Thompson will try to continue the success that Shaw started.

    Thompson, a rising senior, has played well at times when his name was called. In 2012, he led the Gamecocks to 27-17 victory over rival Clemson after Shaw was sidelined due to injury.

    Next year the quarterback position belongs to Thompson. Spurrier has made that clear, per Ryan Wood of the Post and Courier.

    Spurrier is one of the best offensive minds in the game, so I don't expect the Gamecocks to take a step back in terms of offensive production.

    Spurrier will likely center the offense around Mike Davis, so Thompson shouldn't have much pressure to be the main source of production. I think he will have a pretty good year just because he doesn't have to do it all himself.

     

Mike Davis' Heisman Campaign

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    Mike Davis had a solid 2013 season, rushing for 1,183 yards and 11 touchdowns. He was an important piece of Carolina’s offense last year, but they will need to use him more in 2014. He only went over 20 carries in a game three times last season.

    With Connor Shaw gone, they will likely give Davis more opportunities to run the ball.

    He will definitely be in the Heisman conversations next season, and I think he will back up the talk. Davis is a power runner, but also has the breakaway speed seen in smaller backs. 

    Davis’ Heisman campaign should be interesting to watch next season. I’m not sure that he will win it, but he will certainly raise some eyebrows.

Emergence of Shaq Roland and Pharoh Cooper

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    Another big storyline for next year will be watching the growth of Shaq Roland and Pharoh Cooper. Both will look to have breakout seasons in 2014.

    Roland had 25 receptions for 455 yards and five touchdowns last season, but he has so much more upside. Coming out of high school he was a 5-star recruit and rated as the fourth-best receiver in that class.

    He has a lot of potential and with the loss of Bruce Ellington to the draft, he will likely get more targets.

    Carolina fans should be excited about what they saw from Cooper this past year in a limited role. Utilized in the Wildcat formation, he ran for 202 yards on the year. He also passed for a touchdown against rival Clemson.

    I expect both of these guys to play important roles in the offense next season.

Replacing Clowney and Others

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    Jadeveion Clowney, one of the best in school history, will be tough to replace next season.
    Jadeveion Clowney, one of the best in school history, will be tough to replace next season.Scott Halleran/Getty Images

    South Carolina had a solid year defensively, owning the 12th best scoring defense in the nation, according to ESPN.com.

    Now it’s time to start over in some areas. The Gamecock defense loses some key players including Jadeveon Clowney, Chaz Sutton, Victor Hampton and Kelcy Quarles.

    Three of those guys played on the defensive line, so it will be crucial for a few players to step up at that position. J.T. Surratt, Gerald Dixon and Gerald Dixon Jr. will all have the opportunity to be playmakers for this defense.

    The Gamecocks also have a 4-star defensive end committed to them in Dante Sawyer. He is ranked as the 24th best at his position by Scout.com.

    South Carolina loses a pair of cornerbacks to the Draft. Jimmy Legree graduated and Hampton elected to go pro. This position will require attention in the offseason and will need somebody to step up.

Schedule in 2014

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    The Gamecocks will face a very good Auburn team October 25 at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
    The Gamecocks will face a very good Auburn team October 25 at Jordan-Hare Stadium.Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    The Gamecocks' schedule is not easy by any means next season. Their home games include Texas A&M, Georgia, Missouri and Tennessee.

    They play some tough road games also including Auburn, Florida and Clemson.

    Here’s a look at the full 2014 schedule:

     August 28 Texas A&M
     September 6 East Carolina
     September 13 Georgia
     September 20 at Vanderbilt
     September 27 Missouri
     October 4 at Kentucky
     October 18 Furman
     October 25 at Auburn
     November 1 Tennessee
     November 15 at Florida
    November 22 South Alabama
    November 29at Clemson

Can Spurrier Get Them over the Hump in 2014?

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    Spurrier has had three straight years with 11 wins, but is still in search of a SEC Championship at South Carolina.
    Spurrier has had three straight years with 11 wins, but is still in search of a SEC Championship at South Carolina.John Raoux/Associated Press

    Spurrier has had some successful seasons in his Gamecock tenure. The last three seasons, he has won 11 games in each year.

    Even with the good seasons, Carolina has yet to win the SEC with Spurrier at the helm.

    They have won the SEC East, but they ran into an unstoppable Auburn team in the conference championship that year.

    The question now is whether Spurrier can get them over the hump. Can he turn those good seasons into great seasons?

    Next year the Gamecocks will be at it again, attempting to win that SEC Championship. Winning the East looks good for them, depending on how Missouri and Georgia look next season. Georgia has a new starter at quarterback and their defense still has some question marks. Gurley will likely be a big part of the Bulldogs' offense, and new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt will look to improve the defense.

    Florida had a miserable 2013 campaign and it’s unclear how their offense will look next year. Tennessee is rising, but I’m not sure they are at their peak yet.

    It should come down to South Carolina, Georgia or Missouri for the division but whoever wins it will have a heck of a job trying to take down the winner of the SEC West.

    I guess we will all have to wait a while before we find out if Spurrier can get this team over the hump and win the conference but at least winning the SEC East looks like a good bet.