College Football '11: South Carolina in Uncharted Territory; Can It Handle Hype?
As a South Carolina football fan, I am continually amazed at how many times the Gamecocks are popping up on various news sites for various awards.
They were named ESPN's eighth-best team heading into the season and are being mentioned as an SEC championship-caliber team and a possible dark horse national title team. They have two legit Heisman candidates in Alshon Jeffery and Marcus Lattimore.
A new prestigious award called the "Pony Express Award" will honor the best tandems in college football, and South Carolina has two tandems out of the 48 on the watch list. Of course, it is Stephen Garcia, Lattimore and Jeffery and then Devin Taylor and Melvin Ingram on the defensive side.
You can see other SEC tandems listed here.
Then, you have many different sources placing three Gamecocks (Jeffery, Stephon Gilmore and Taylor) in the first round of next year's draft, which is unheard of.
Of course, they also have the national attention of attracting the No. 1 recruit in the country, who has also been called the most special talent of the Internet era.
With all of the accolades and hype, one should feel pretty good.
However, I don't...not yet.
This is a group that has never felt this type of outside pressure before, and coming off their first appearance (if you could call it that) in the SEC Championship Game, this is a unique experience for the boys in garnet and black.
It is difficult for outside fans to see South Carolina as a legit contender. However, one only needs to look at the roster to see that maybe the experts have something.
They have a record-breaking quarterback in Stephen Garcia who may own all of South Carolina's pass records by the ends of the season (yes, he is underrated).
They have the dynamic duo of Alshon Jeffery and Marcus Lattimore, combined with an offensive line as set and talented as they have had in years, boosted by Art Shell's nephew Brandon Shell, who is a 6'7" stud freshman.
The other receivers are good with speed to burn.
On the defensive side, South Carolina boasts the best defensive line in the SEC, and possibly the nation, with Devin Taylor, Melvin Ingram, Travian Robertson and Jadeveon Clowney all stacking that group.
They have experienced and intelligent linebackers with a healthy Rodney Paulk and a healthy Shaq Wilson (both All-SEC-caliber players) back in the lineup.
They have a super talented (yet underperforming) secondary, led by All-American Stephon Gilmore.
This team has the talent and the ability. However, can it put it all together for one magic program-changing season?
The keys will be Garcia's consistency and the secondary living up to its athletic potential.
If those two factors turn out positively and South Carolina wins the second game of the year against Georgia, I am not so sure I see any team on the schedule stopping the Gamecocks until they see the West division champion in the SEC title game.
I could see it happening...but you never know. 8-4 could be on the horizon again. All I know is that I can't wait for kickoff.
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