The 2010 college football season has "officially" started with spring practices and spring games popping up all over the country.
While the smell of grass and flowers permeate the air, South Carolina has only one scent that they are sniffing.
An SEC East championship.
South Carolina has NEVER been this close. They have good to great players from top to bottom, and they added excellent depth with another top 25 recruiting class.
If they can't pull it together this year, Carolina fans may have to wait for a much longer time.
2. Projected two-deep lineup
3. Top 10 Recruits
4. Position Analysis and Top 10 Players
5. Schedule Prediction
Some people may scoff at the idea of South Carolina winning anything in the SEC. However, the east is as "down" as it has ever been.
Florida loses its best player in history and has a coach that may or may not be able to give 110 percent.
Georgia has player issues.
Tennessee is in turmoil.
Kentucky loses its successful coach and best player.
However, "down" in the SEC East could still spell at least three top 25 teams and a team in the National Championship hunt.
South Carolina has the firepower to be one of the top teams in this division this year. A returning veteran quarterback, a stable of good running backs, a receiving corps that could be much improved, and a new scheme on offense could spell great things on that side of the ball.
Defensively, this South Carolina team is as loaded as they have ever been, even though the team lost its leader in Eric Norwood, and a great player in Clifton Geathers.
If the Ol' Ball Coach can adjust to the game planning and utilize his players, this team will be a force to reckon with.
Projected Two-Deep Lineup
Starter First, Backup(s) Second
QB: Stephen Garcia, Connor Shaw (F)
HB: Jarvis Giles, Kenny Miles/Marcus Lattimore (F)
FB: Patrick DiMarco, Matt Coffee (F)
WR 1: Alshon Jeffrey, Jason Barnes
WR 2: Tori Gurley, Dion LeCorn
Slot Receiver: Ace Sanders (F), Bryce Sherman (Out of Position), D.L. Moore
TE: Weslye Saunders, Justice Cunningham
Offensive Line: (Will be updated after the Spring Game).
LT: Kyle Nunn
LG: Jarriel King
C: T.J. Johnson
RG: Rokevious Watkins
RT: Garrett Chisolm
LDE: Cliff Matthews, Chaz Sutton
LDT: Ladi Ajiboye, Kelsey Quarles (F)
RDT: Travian Robertson, Melvin Ingram
RDE: Devin Taylor, Aldrick Fordham
MLB: Rodney Paulk, Toquavius Gilchrist
WLB: Shaq Wilson, Tony Straughter
SPUR: Antonio Allen, Damario Jeffery
CB1: Stephon Gilmore, Victor Hampton (F)
CB2: Chris Culliver, C.C. Whitlock
FS: Akeem Aguste, D.J. Swearinger
SS: DeVonte Holloman, Corey Addison (F)
PK: Spencer Lanning, Adam Yates
KO: Adam Yates, Joey Scribner-Howard
P: Spencer Lanning, Eric Davis
KR: Bryce Sherman, Chris Culliver
PR: Stephon Gilmore, Akeem Aguste
This is one of the stronger two deep line-ups in the SEC as of right now. (Keep in mind, these do not necessarily follow the depth chart positions listed in the media guide for the upcoming season...these reflect my personal opinions only).
Question marks on the offensive line are the largest concerns. The running back position is loaded, with five viable options. If the line comes together, look for the running game to explode out of last place.
Top 10 Recruits (Freshman or Junior Transfers)
10. Du'Von Millsap (Buford, GA) 6'6", 315 pound Offensive Lineman
This is the type of body that SEC schools love. He drew heavy interest from Alabama, Florida, and Texas, but he committed to South Carolina. He is projected as a guard, and if he develops some could add depth immediately.
9. Nick Jones (Duncan, SC) 5'8", 170 pound Wide Receiver
Nick Jones (one of Marcus Lattimore's best friends) is a playmaker. He is extremely fast, and could develop into a nice slot receiver. He made big plays for one of the best high school football teams in the country. He could be redshirted this year.
8. Sharrod Golightly (Decatur, GA) 5'11", 180 pound Defensive Back
After originally committing to Vandy, Golightly made a wise choice and switched to South Carolina. Golightly could use some weight on his frame, but he will be a good defensive back for South Carolina.
7. Toquavius Gilchrist (El Dorado, KS) 6'2", 230 pound Linebacker
Toquavius Gilchrist is a very interesting and exciting pickup. At one point, he was a running back. He is very fast for his size and has great instincts. He is also a huge hitter. This player could become a starter at some point.
6. Connor Shaw (Flowery Branch, GA) 6'2", 195 pound Quarterback
At the end of his stay at South Carolina, he could shoot himself into the top three on the list. Considered a steal for South Carolina as just a three star recruit, Connor Shaw has already showed flashes during the spring that he could be South Carolina's next quarterback.
5. Ace Sanders (Bradenton, FL) 5'9", 165 pound Wide Receiver
Ace Saunders has been described as a "big pickup" by scouts. This quick and dynamic playmaker could be a force in the new Spurrier offense. He could earn a great deal of playing time as a slot receiver.
4. Victor Hampton (Darlington, SC) 5'11", 170 pound Defensive Back
A U.S. Army All-American, Hampton drew interest from Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, and North Carolina before coming to South Carolina to bolster its defensive backfield. Having Hampton on board may free up Stephon Gilmore for more "WildCock" duty on offense. This player will play often this year, and could work his way into the starting lineup if the "Chris Culliver to cornerback" project doesn't work out.
3. A.J. Cann (Bamberg, SC) 6'3", 260 pound Offensive Lineman
The No. 2 ranked center in the country committing to South Carolina is huge. An Under Armour All-American, Cann will add depth to the offensive line. He was recruited by at least 15 prominent programs in the south.
2. Kelcy Quarles (Greenwood, SC) 6'4", 265 pound Defensive Tackle
Kelcy is the type of athlete Steve Spurrier has wanted since he came to South Carolina. He has been an advocate for South Carolina since his commitment, helping with the recruiting of other prospects. He will see playing time as a freshman, and will be an excellent pass rusher from the inside.
1. Marcus Lattimore (Duncan, SC) 6'0", 210 pound Running Back
Any recruiting list involving South Carolina should have Marcus squarely at the top (or in this case, the bottom). Was this a position of need? Maybe not. The running game woes can be blamed on the offensive line more than anything, with two running backs on the team averaging over five yards per carry.
The thing that makes Marcus the crown jewel of the recruiting class is his character. He is reportedly a high character man. South Carolina has had issues with their five star running back recruits (See Demetrius Summers) who struggle off the field.
He will see action in 2010.
Position Analysis and Top 10 Players
This is the make or break position for the South Carolina Gamecocks this year. Garcia showed flashes of being the quarterback that the fans and Head Ball Coach think he can be. However, he was also sacked a great deal.
The backup position is a question mark. The departure of Aramis Hillary and Reid McCollum leave the Gamecocks with fewer options. Andrew Clifford and Zac Brandise are the returning players, but the edge will go with freshman Connor Shaw.
The play of Garcia may reflect Carolina's final record. The wild-card...Stephon Gilmore, WildCock quarterback. He could see more offensive snaps this year.
Position Grade: C+
Running Back/Full Back
There are some very good players here that have yet to have the opportunity to shine. Last year’s starter Kenny Miles does a great deal of things well, but nothing that would be considered elite. He is a well rounded back.
Brian Maddox is the sledge hammer of the group. Jarvis Giles has the potential to be a great starter, with speed and quickness to spare. However, he needs to get the mental aspect of the game down.
Bryce Sherman is one of the fastest players in the SEC. He will be used in many more ways this year. Look for him in the slot wide receiver position.
Then there is Marcus Lattimore, which Rivals.com compares favorably to the Miami Dolphins Ronnie Brown. He could push for playing time.
The fullback group is also strong. Steve Spurrier plans on using senior fullback Patrick DiMarco a great deal this year, and he could be a low draft pick as a FB next year. Matt Coffee, brother of San Francisco 49er Glenn Coffee, has potential to be a great replacement for Pat next year.
The only thing that keeps this group from being an A is the fact that the offensive line has not given them the opportunity to prove anything.
Position Grade: B
Troy Williamson, Sydney Rice, Kenny McKinnley. There have been some pretty good collegiate wide outs on South Carolina's roster lately. There has even been one bona-fide NFL star in Sydney Rice of the Vikings.
The best one of all time may be sitting on this roster. Alshon Jeffrey was an amazing freshman. If his light came on earlier, he would have easily eclipsed 1,000 yards receiving. He has a knack for getting the ball, and could be an NFL star.
Tori Gurley is very good as well. If he works on concentration, he could be a star as well. Oh...and Alshon Jeffrey is 6'4", and Gurley is 6'5".
There are a great deal of good backup players as well. Dion LeCorn, D.L. Moore, Lamar Scruggs, Stephen Flint, DeMario Bennett, and incoming freshmen Ace Sanders and Nick Jones make this the deepest position on offense and possibly the entire team.
Positional Grade: A+
Weslye Saunders headlines this group, but he has never truly reached his potential. His 6'6", 275 pound body could be utilized so much more. He has good speed and good hands, but the mental aspect of the game sometimes passes him by.
Justice Cunningham is the backup. As a freshman, he saw ample playing time. However, the coaches did try to bring in a highly touted TE recruit to no avail, so that doesn't necessarily bode well on the coaches confidence in the group.
Positional Grade: C
If this group gets a great deal better, there is no reason to think that South Carolina could not win 10 games. There is a lot of beef on this line with nine players weighing in at over 300 pounds.
New positional coach Shawn Elliot has a great deal of work to do to instill some discipline and conditioning into these players. Look for freshmen such as A.J. Cann and DuVon Millsap to compete for time.
Jarriel King, Kyle Nunn, and Rokevious Watkins headline this group.
Positional Grade: D+ with a chance to go higher.
There are some very nice players within this group, even with Clifton Geathers waking up one morning and declaring for the draft. Devin Taylor has the chance to be special, and Cliff Matthews was the best defensive end on the team last year.
Chaz Sutton and Aldrick Fordham have nice skills as backups, even though both are a bit undersized.
Positional Grade: B
A little thin here, but that doesn't mean there are no high quality players. Travian Robertson could have a big year this year. He has good size at 6'5" and 298 pounds. Ladi Ajiboye has a great deal of experience as a senior.
Kelcy Quarles should see playing time as a pass rusher and will develop into an every down defensive tackle. Melvin Ingram (who will see playing time on the offensive side of the ball as a fullback) and Kenny Davis add quality depth.
Positional Grade: B
The linebackers on this team are a big time strength, even with the loss of Eric Norwood, one of the most special players to ever play at USC, both on the field and off of it. Rodney Paulk returns from a season ending injury to anchor the middle of the field. He has excellent vision and great pursuit speed.
Behind him, Josh Dickerson and Toquavius Gilchrist add a high level of quality depth.
Taking the place of Eric Norwood is Shaq Wilson, last year’s starter at MLB. Shaq is very small for a linebacker, at 5'10" and 226 pounds, but he is fast and has a nose for the ball. He should fit very well at the weak side position. Tony Straughter is an excellent back up at this point and has experience as a senior.
The unique SPUR position is sort of a linebacker safety hybrid position. It’s like the freelance assassin of the defense. Antonio Allen and Demario Jeffrey will hold on to this position. They are very smart and quick defenders, two very important aspects of running the spur position.
Positional Grade: A
This is another talented group. Stephon Gilmore may very well be the best corner in the SEC with the potential to be the best in the country. He is also highly intelligent and an excellent leader.
Chris Culliver switches over from safety, and he will shine as a corner. His speed and agility will help him blanket receivers. His brain has to catch up with his legs. Jay Spearman and C.C. Whitlock back up the two starters, and both have speed to kill.
Victor Hampton has the chance to develop into a nice player as well. He has great size and skills, but his off the field issues could interfere with his growth.
Positional Grade: B+
This group is also very solid. Akeem Aguste comes over to free safety in the swap with Chris Culliver. Aguste proved last year that he is a brutal hitter, and his reaction to the ball will come into play. Behind him is D.J. Swearinger, a sophomore who showed he had good ability last year.
The strong safety position is set with DeVonte Holloman starting. At 6'3", 226 pounds, he has elite size. I predict he will have a breakout year, and will become an All-SEC performer. Corey Addison and Alonzo Winfield make this a deep group.
Positional Grade: B+
Spencer Lanning made fans forget the name Ryan Succop. He made clutch kicks, and besides one bad game, he was extremely accurate. He is also a highly talented punter.
The kick off specialist is either going to be Adam Yates (who struggled at times last year) or Joey Scribner-Howard, who apparently has a huge leg, but struggles with accuracy. A good kicker has to emerge to keep players from running back kicks for touchdowns (which happened three times last year).
There are a stable of returners that can make an impact. Both Chris Culliver and Bryce Sherman are electrifying at returning kicks, and Stephon Gilmore is a reliable (if not flashy) punt returner, making the freshman All-SEC team for punt returning.
Until the designated specialists and hit men catch up, the return coverage team will be a liability.
Positional Grade: C-
Top Ten Returning Players
10. Chris Culliver, CB
9. Akeem Aguste, FS
8. Tori Gurley, WR
7. Stephen Garcia, QB
6. Shaq Wilson, WLB
5. Devin Taylor, DE
4. DeVonte Holloman, SS
3. Cliff Matthews, DE
2. Stephon Gilmore, CB, PR, QB
1. Alshon Jeffrey, WR
vs. Southern Miss
Southern Miss is no pushover team. It is talented, and has the ability to push the Gamecock team. However, this will end with a Carolina victory.
USC-28, Southern Miss-7.
South Carolina will prove that they are the program on the rise. In Columbia, South Carolina wins this by double digits.
Furman is a very talented team. They could compete early, as S.C. State did the previous year. However, South Carolina's talent will prevail, and the game will end in a rout.
A much improved Auburn team gives USC all it can handle. The first road test of the season, South Carolina wins by a field goal.
Alabama comes to Columbia, probably sporting a top five ranking, and South Carolina will possibly be top 15. I am predicting that this will be a night game, on ESPN, and USC will shock the world by beating Alabama, announcing the arrival of a new SEC elite.
Kentucky always plays South Carolina tough. However, this year, the edge in talent goes much heavier in South Carolina's favor.
This one will once again be closer than anyone will think. For some reason, the Commodores get up for South Carolina. South Carolina wins by 10, but look for a competitive matchup.
Tennessee will have no chance in this game. The Vols are in distress, and the fans may cry out about the past and how Tennessee has dominated the series. If I could foresee one thing without any question, it would be that there is no way Tennessee walks out of Columbia with a win...it won't even be close.
This will be the key game in the key stretch. If this was in Arkansas, I would give the edge to the Razorbacks. However, in Columbia, with a possible top five ranking on the line and a historically significant matchup against Florida the next week, South Carolina pulls off the victory in shoot-out style.
With the chance for the first undefeated SEC season on the line, South Carolina will falter for the first time this season. Florida still has talent, and they still have a great coach. Carolina loses a heartbreaker in Gainesville.
Troy had a wonderful 2009. Welcome to 2010. This may be a better team than advertised, but Carolina wins easily in Columbia.
In Columbia, SC, Carolina rolls the instate rival for a chance at an SEC championship. This could always be close, but the 2010 USC team should be much better than the 2009 team which dominated a Clemson team with two potential first round picks playing for them.
The SEC Championship game will come down to this. South Carolina could finish the season 11-1, and still lose out to an 11-1 Florida squad that beat them earlier in the year. However, I believe Florida will lose one early, and one late, and finish the season at 10-2, putting Carolina in the championship game for the first time in program history.
South Carolina will lose a rematch to Alabama, 24-10.
South Carolina will finish 11-2, and receive a BCS bowl bid. I will not even begin to predict that, as South Carolina's bowl woes have been well publicized as of late.
The prediction faction is flawed, and biased. However, there really isn't any reason to believe this won't be the year that Carolina finally breaks through. There are question marks to address, and all of this is assuming the new line coach and players can come together.
2010 will be a year South Carolina fans will always remember regardless of what happens. Will it be remembered as a year of monumental disappointment? Will it be the year South Carolina fans have been waiting years for?
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