South Carolina Football: Coach Spurrier's 4 Biggest Challenges for Gamecocks
The South Carolina Gamecocks are coming off their third straight finish in the Top 10, making them a prime pick to secure a spot in the first ever college football playoff.
South Carolina is on the rise yet again as it returns a majority of its players on offense and has a lot of depth at most positions on defense. Head ball coach Steve Spurrier may not have the talent of Jadeveon Clowney or the strong will of Connor Shaw, though he does have arguably his most talented team top to bottom during his career in Columbia.
The pressure is on for South Carolina to be the team to beat in the SEC outside of Alabama, whom the Gamecocks avoid on the regular-season schedule.
The Gamecocks have a great opportunity to claim a playoff spot, though the task will not be an easy one.
Here are Coach Spurrier's four biggest challenges for the South Carolina Gamecocks in 2014.
Developing the Secondary
How can a team with one scholarship cornerback on the spring roster and a slew of freshmen to rely on possibly be a powerhouse in the brutal SEC?
I keep asking myself this same question, but then I come back to the fact that while experience is low, talent is high. And the safeties can seriously lock down teams over the top while also having the ability to play up in the box.
Even if safety Brison Williams slides over from safety to cornerback, the Gamecocks need to develop the youngsters into ready-to-play-day-one players who elevate their level of play each week.
Spurrier will be placing a lot of pressure on defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward and defensive backs coach Grady Brown to accelerate the development of the freshmen trio of Wesley Green, Chris Lammons and D.J. Smith.
These kids are excited to don the garnet and black and have an immediate impact, though South Carolina fans should keep it in perspective what these kids are capable of.
If Spurrier and his staff can develop Green, Lammons and Smith in the blink of an eye, the Gamecocks' defense will become a force in college football.
Finding a Consistent Pass Rush
Replacing Jadeveon Clowney is no easy task. Don't forget that the Gamecocks also lost Kelcy Quarles in the middle and a solid player in Chaz Sutton on the opposite end. There is a lot of work yet to be done on the defensive line.
The Gamecocks do have a great bunch of defensive line talents ready to make the jump to starting roles and fill the shoes of Clowney and co.
Darius English is the most prototypical player on the defensive pass rush as he has Clowney-like size as he continues to bulk up. English has the speed and frame to be the focal point of South Carolina's pass rush in 2014.
Cedrick Cooper, a linebacker converted to a defensive end, could create speed rush issues as he is an athletic style of player. Mason Harris provides length like that of English's and Gerald Dixon gives a stockier option on the edge.
Spurrier needs to find the right combinations to use in certain situations to assist the defensive line as much as he can. Spurrier has the power to help the pass rush thrive by utilizing the depth he has on the interior and the edge.
Preparing the Backup If Dylan Thompson Gets Hurt
Make note: Dylan Thompson is South Carolina's quarterback in 2014. And I think he will be a really good one too.
Though every team must prepare for the worst, and that means having a reliable backup in case your go-to quarterback goes down at any point throughout the season. Connor Shaw had Dylan Thompson. Now, Dylan Thompson has...Connor Mitch or Brendan Nosovitch?
Mitch is the more likely option to prepare for the backup role. He is the quarterback of the future and has huge upside. Will he be ready to compete on the field as a backup in 2014? I don't think he is quite ready and South Carolina hopes it doesn't come to that. However, Mitch is the best option among the quarterbacks on the roster.
Nosovitch underperformed throughout the spring and doesn't have the confidence in his arm or decision-making to lead the type of offense Spurrier wants to run with Thompson and Mitch.
Thompson is a strong player and no one will be hoping he gets hurt, but Spurrier and his staff need to prepare for the worst by prepping Mitch for those situations.
Last season, South Carolina had an advantageous schedule by avoiding cross-divisional games against Alabama, LSU, Texas A&M and Auburn. This year, the Gamecocks don't square off against Alabama or LSU, but they do have to play at home against Texas A&M to start the season and BCS runner-up Auburn on the road.
Texas A&M will be nowhere near as good as in the past considering that Johnny Manziel, Jake Matthews and Mike Evans are all in the NFL. But I wouldn't write off what Kevin Sumlin is capable of offensively regardless of who his quarterback is. Texas A&M will be difficult to beat, especially Week 1 with a young secondary. Williams-Brice Stadium and the home crowd should help the Gamecocks prevail though.
The road game against Auburn will be a true test for how good this South Carolina team will be in 2014. Auburn can put up points in a hurry under Gus Malzahn's offense, so Auburn presents the biggest challenge for the Gamecocks on the schedule in 2014.
Road games against Florida and Clemson will also pose threats. And home games against rising Missouri and Tennessee as well as rival Georgia, who looks poised to have an impressive season, all stand in South Carolina's way.
The schedule is not an easy one, though when you play in the SEC it is never easy. Yet the Gamecocks have a grand opportunity to string together an impressive season and make the college football playoff if they can overcome these challenges in 2014.