Your 2010 SEC East Champs Are...the South Carolina Gamecocks?

Eddie BeckerCorrespondent IDecember 16, 2009

COLUMBIA, SC - NOVEMBER 14:  Head coach Urban Meyer (L) of the Florida Gators shakes hands with head coach Steve Spurrier (R) of the South Carolina Gamecocks during their game at Williams-Brice Stadium on November 14, 2009 in Columbia, South Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

If you're not busy on Jan. 2 around 2:00 p.m. Eastern time, sit down and turn on the Bowl.  Why?  Because you may be watching one of next year's contenders in the SEC Title Game.

That's right.  The South Carolina Gamecocks have all the makings of finally doing what Spurrier set out to do when he first came to Columbia: win the SEC. 

And why not?  What better time to take hold of the SEC East when Georgia is down, Tennessee loses their surprise comeback QB Jonathan Crompton, and Tim Tebow is off making NFL millions? 

Beyond that however, the Gamecocks should be one of the most dangerous teams next season on both sides of the ball.

The youth movement is hitting Columbia with force, as the 2010 squad will have lost only nine seniors from this year's team.  That makes the Gamecocks one of the youngest teams in the SEC, behind only Arkansas and Vanderbilt.

Offensively, we saw shades of brilliance from the Gamecock youngsters this season.  Led by Stephen Garcia, a Florida native quarterback who showed signs of leadership after a tumultuous 2008 on and off the field. Garcia managed over 2,000 yards passing and 17 touchdowns, and only threw nine interceptions. 

Only a sophomore, Garcia proves deadly with his feet as well in moments when the pocket collapses.  One issue is protection: the Gamecocks were tied for last in the SEC with 33 sacks allowed. 

Then again, they lose only one starter from the offensive line, so that facet of the game should improve. 

Garcia becoming consistent is imperative for the Gamecocks to win.  Six of Garcia's nine picks thrown came in games SC lost.  To add to that, in games that Garcia threw 30+ times, SC was only 2-5.  Garcia will have plenty of help next year, however.

Also on offense, you have the fabulous freshmen.  First with the running backs, Kenny Miles (602 rush yards, 5.4 yards per carry) and Jarvis Giles (277 rush yards, 5.3 yards per carry), both of whom also missed three games each due to injury or suspension.

Both proved to be game-breaking backs who can run between the tackles, yet have to speed to be dangerous in the open field as well. 

At receiver, freshmen Alshon Jeffery (43 receptions, 735 yards, 6 TDs) and Tori Gurley (28 receptions, 426 yards, 2 TDs) give Garcia big targets to throw to.

As we all know, South Carolina has a rich history of wide receivers (i.e. Sterling Sharpe, Sidney Rice, Troy Williamson) and they appear to be continuing it. 

Add into that mix sophomore Jason Barnes (24 receptions, 266 yards), who was one of the highest ranked WRs in the 2008 class.

Defensively, the Gamecocks lose defensive lineman Nathan Pepper and linebacker Eric Norwood, who has top ten potential in the 2010 NFL draft. 

Despite those huge losses, the Gamecocks have a stockpile of talent waiting in the wings.  We've already seen big production from D-linemen Clifton Geathers and Cliff Matthews. 

Both of those guys should be returning next year, as will freshman Stephon Gilmore, who led the team in pass break-ups. 

In fact, four of the six team interceptions were from freshman and sophomores.  14 of the team's 25 sacks were by underclassmen. The Gamecocks ranked third in the SEC in total defense behind Florida and Alabama.

With the other big boys in the SEC losing talent on both sides of the ball, 2010 will be a prime season for Spurrier to finally lead the Gamecocks into SEC super-stardom. 

There's work to be done, as the Gamecocks ranked 9th in the SEC in turnover margin (-3), 3rd down conversions (37.8%), and penalties (54.5 yards per game). 

But with the youth gaining experience in the 2009 season, look for the Gamecocks to be a BCS darkhorse in 2010.