Columbia, SC: It seems like the same old story arises every year for the Steve Spurrier and the South Carolina Gamecocks.
Fans begin the season excited. This is the year, they say.
Then, the Gamecocks start with a bang. USC is popular TV with high-caliber opponents and a big-time coach.
Of course, the Gamecocks seem to always finish the year with a losing streak and a blowout loss to a Big 10 or Big East team in a bowl game.
Then, college football publications typically come out and predict that the Gamecocks will finish 3rd or 4th in the East in the following season.
Most college football magazines won't pick the Gamecocks to be at their reserved spot in 2011.
The Gamecocks won their first SEC East Championship in 2010.
"Our team is not as good as some people think we're going to be," says head coach Steve Spurrier.
The Gamecocks started fast, as usual. They even beat No. 1 seed Alabama as well as Georgia with a superb offense led by RB Marcus Lattimore and WR Alshon Jeffery.
But things weren't perfect. By the time Arkansas came to town, the Gamecocks were 6-2 with its losses coming to Auburn and Kentucky—two games Steve Spurrier knows his team could have won.
Then, a 41-20 shellacking by Arkansas put Gamecock fans at a crossroads. Their next game would be against the Florida Gators, and the winner would get a ticket to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game
As always, the media and fans of college football doubted the Gamecocks. Sometimes it can be hard to be a fan of the Columbia school.
Guess what? Steve Spurrier tamed the Gators, which he himself built into a college football superpower. Freshman Running Back Marcus Lattimore scored three touchdowns in the victory.
The Gamecocks went on to lose their last two games, against Auburn in the SEC Championship and against Florida State in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl.
Despite the season-ending slide, USC should be a popular pick to win the East and be ranked in the Top 10. The Gamecocks enter the season with perhaps the best one-two punch in America (Lattimore, Jeffery) as well as the nation's No. 1 recruit, DE Jadaveon Clowney.
So why does Athlon Sports place the Gamecocks third in the SEC Eastern Divison?
According to Athlon:
"As usual, much of the team's success will be determined by its mercurial quarterback, Stephen Garcia, Suspended indefinitely to close out the spring -the fifth time he's been suspended- Garcia could as easily flame out as he could spark the team. But when Garcia's on, he's on."
The offensive line is also noted as a giant question mark, but guess what? According to the magazine, South Carolina dosen't have any more major problems.
Despite having five pre-season All-Americans on their first and second teams, USC is given an average final ranking of 21st in the nation.
The magazine predicts that the Gamecocks will go 8-4, finishing in the Outback Bowl against Michigan State.
So the question is this: is South Carolina actually weak at quarterback and the offensive line?
I don't think so. USC returns it's starting center, T.J Johnson, and Stephen Garcia returns from his fifth suspension as SC's third leading passer all time, with 3,059 yards in 2010.
But then again, Garcia can always struggle, along with the O-Line. The secondary was one of the worst in the nation last year.
Regardless,"It also helps USC is the only established team in the East this season. Florida is in a new state of flux under Will Munschamp, Georgia and Tennessee remain in rebuilding mode, and Kentucky and Vanderbilt- per usual hold down the bottom of the division," says Columbia sports columnist Ron Morris.
In conclusion, Gamecock fans should not buy into Athlon's predictions. One positive is that these predictions keep SC flying under the radar in at least one publication.
Nevertheless, USC still has to perform on the field this season to live up to its expectations.