Coming off one of their most impressive seasons in school history, the Gamecocks and Steve Spurrier have enough talent in Columbia to chase a repeat performance. Will they have the wherewithal to repeat as SEC East Champs?
Steve Spurrier waited patiently as his talent level in Columbia continued to rise, and then when the 2010 season arrived, along with some young running back named Marcus Lattimore. With the perfect potion in place, the Gamecocks finally rose past years of mediocrity and staked claim to an SEC East championship. Sure, Florida and Georgia were not as successful as their programs are become accustomed too, and Tennessee was on the verge of becoming a cellar dweller, but the 'Cocks still won—that's what truly matters. People may mention their inability to compete with Auburn in the SEC Championship game, but that was much more due to Auburn entering buzz-saw mode than USC not being deserving.
Now only one question remains—can South Carolina continue to improve and compete at a high level? Will the program label this as the culmination of the Spurrier regime, or will they use it as a point to blast into the upper echelon of football schools and be a consistent competitor year in and year out? Something that South Carolina football has never been able to achieve throughout the program's history—only surpassing eight wins just three times this past century.
Thankfully, they should have no problems making this the fourth year. They have a potent returning offense, including the best offensive line of the Spurrier regime, a ton of highly skilled position players and a bone-headed—albeit talented—quarterback that has the chance to lead the program to great heights in 2011.
This is obviously new territory for the Gamecock program, and it has the ability to compete for an SEC championship and, if things progress as Spurrier believes they can, a BCS Championship.
Steve Spurrier recently said Stephen Garcia had been reinstated as a member of the program—a decision that we all knew was coming—and the Gamecock quarterback position had its resident knucklehead back to lead the charge. Garcia, who has made so many poor off the field decisions over the years it's became laughable, is the key cog to the Spurrier offense. While he may not be the smartest individual in the offseason, he showed great maturation and progression on the field in 2010—a large improvement over the first two years of his career. The improved offensive line play, with the addition of Marcus Lattimore and the incredible skills of go-to receiver Alshon Jeffery allowed Garcia to finally live up to his potential.
Garcia has all the natural tools to be one of the most potent gunslingers in the SEC and if he continues to let the game come to him and not force the issue, he will have another excellent season in 2011. However, if he reverts to old form and returns to slinging the ball to the other team, the Ol' Ball Coach will be using his quick trigger to bring in Connor Shaw.
Shaw, a 6'1", 202 pounder, has a ton of talent at the quarterback position and he must be ready at all moments. Spurrier has shown throughout his career that he has zero patience for poor quarterback play and will give the back up the reigns without a moment's notice. Shaw possesses great mobility and has a lively arm, but is lacking big-time experience. He will provide the 'Cocks with a capable back up throughout the season and a strong future at the quarterback position.
The quarterback position is well in hand for the South Carolina program.
There were high hopes and expectations when Marcus Lattimore entered the USC program, and he's lived up to the hype placed upon him before his freshmen campaign. He showed blazing speed, brilliant cut-back ability and a toughness between the tackles that makes him one of the most complete tailbacks in the entire country. As we stated, Lattimore was brilliant at times, rushing for nearly 1,200 yards, but took an absolute pounding as the season carried on and nagging injuries began to catch up with the talented freshman—costing South Carolina the game in Lexington, Kentucky. Spurrier and company must find some help at the position to take the pressure and load off of his talented sophomore. Thankfully, there appears to be enough talent in Columbia to ease that pain.
Kenny Miles, a 5'10", 184 pound junior, is an adequate back-up and capable of producing when called upon. He was the team's leading rusher in 2009 with nearly 630 yards, but his action was limited in 2010. He will be joined by Eric Baker in the battle for carries. Baker has shown exponential amounts of talent, but has struggled to stay healthy throughout his career.
With the talents of Lattimore leading the charge, this will be one of the most dominant units in the country, and has the ability to produce a Heisman winner.
Has Stephen Garcia finally learned his lesson?
Garcia possesses one of the most talented players in the country to target when he receives the snap. Alshon Jeffery is a dynamic playmaker and is an NFL-ready talent playing at the collegiate level. The 6'4", 233 pound junior dominated SEC defensive backfields a year ago, compiling 88 catches for over 1,500 yards and nine touchdowns. He is poised to have another fantastic season and is heads and shoulders above most other receivers in the conference. However, he must receive help from his opposite receiver and someone other than Lattimore to duplicate the 2010 season.
Tori Gurley departed for the NFL, leaving the No. 2 receiver position up for grabs. D.L. Moore has an opportunity to step in and seize the opportunity that has been presented. The 6'4", 212 pounder showed flashes throughout last season and is an excellent downfield blocker in the running game.
Behind Jeffery and Moore are several young, talented prospects attempting to crack the rotation. Lamar Scruggs, Ace Sanders, Nick Jones and Damiere Byrd all have the ability to see action this season and provide the Gamecocks with a nice future at the wide receiver position.
The tight end position appears to in a flux. Justice Cunningham, a 6'3", 262 pound junior is a much better blocker and has yet to contribute much in the passing game, catching only seven passes in 2010. Chaun Gresham and Corey Simmons will serve as the primary back ups to Cunningham, but they are both suited more for the run-blocking game. With the lack of a true receiving tight end threat, you will see Garcia continue to use Lattimore as an outlet from the backfield in check down opportunities.
During Spurrier's tenure in Columbia, the offensive line has been a constant problem plaguing the program. However, last season they finally developed a solid unit that provided Lattimore with plenty of push up front. They still struggled in pass protection, allowing thirty sacks, and while they lose a couple of key cogs, there is still plenty of talent in place.
Center T.J. Johnson is the most talented of the bunch and has the ability to be an All-SEC performer when motivated. The 6'4", 314 pound junior is a master at leading the call at the line, and although his height causes leverage issues, he is a solid blocker. Johnson will be surrounded by several capable players up front.
Rokevious Watkins is a mountain of a man at 6'4", 344 pounds, and is poised to move to right tackle from the interior. If he can keep his weight in check, he has the potential to be a monster from that position. He will be opposite of Kyle Nunn, a veteran left tackle. Nunn struggled with pass protection throughout the 2010 season, but the hope is for major improvement in 2011.
The most talented lineman on campus may also be the youngest. Incoming freshman Brandon Shell has all the tools and size at 6'7", 310 pounds, one needs to be a dominant SEC lineman. He has shown an excellent ability in pass protection and could contribute immediately.
Overall, this line should develop into a quality unit. However, they may struggle to replicate the excellent numbers of a year ago.
Considering that the USC defensive line was already one of the most talented in the entire country in 2010, the thought of placing Jadeveon Clowney among an already potent group has the Gamecock faithful giddy with anticipation. Clowney, the country's most highly regarded recruit, and widely considered one of the most talented defensive end prospects to come from the high school level, will immediately upgrade a line that was seventh in the country in sacks last season. The 6'5", 235 pound Clowney is poised to be a star the moment he steps on the field and has the ability to be the most potent pass rusher on the entire roster in 2011, and that's saying a lot.
Is Alshon Jeffery the most talented WR in the country?
Travian Robertson and Aldrick Fordham will man the interior of the line, led by Robertson. Robertson is in his second year returning from an injury and has the talent to be one of the most dominant defensive tackles in the country. He is an immovable force on the interior and provides an excellent protection against the run. Kelcy Quarles and Byron Jerideau will push Fordham for time on the front line and provide quality depth on the interior.
Overall, this is one of the most dominant offensive lines in the entire country and will be a terror for opposing offenses throughout the season.
Josh Dickerson and Tony Straughter have departed and left a hole in the linebacker corps. Thankfully, the return of Shaq Wilson will help alleviate some of the pressure.
The 5'11", 233 pound Wilson suffered from a hamstring injury throughout much of 2010, but has a ton of speed and is an excellent against the run, providing a solid foundation for the linebackers. Along with Wilson, Rodney Paulk is attempting to return from another injury plagued campaign and break into the rotation. Paulk has fought off injuries throughout his career, but still has the talent to produce at all positions.
Antonio Allen and Demario Jeffery will be battling for the spur position, where Allen showed plenty of talent a year ago. They provide a one-two punch with differing styles for the Gamecocks. Allen, a 6'0, 208 pounder, is much better against the pass—a more natural safety—and struggles against the run, but Jeffery, a 6'3, 230 pound hitting-machine, is a tough run stopper that can provide that extra man in the box.
Quin Smith and DeVonte Holloman will be battling for position on the weak side. Holloman is an extremely talented player that lacks consistency. He tends to strive for the big play, instead of the smart one.
This unit will miss the loss of its two best players from a year ago, but they still have enough talent to be a part of a quality defense.
The Gamecock secondary in 2010 could be described in one, multi-syllable word: Disappointment. Following a 2009 season that saw Spurrier's secondary only allow eleven touchdowns, USC struggled to stop anyone throwing the ball in 2010, allowing over 242 yards a game and 23 passing touchdowns. Fortunately, enough talent is coming back to return toward the top of the SEC.
Stephen Gilmore, a big, physical cornerback, will lead the charge in the secondary. The 6'1, 194 pounder is one of the best athletes on the entire team and is still becoming accustomed to his transition to defense, but he has the talent to be the most dominant player in the entire back seven. Gilmore will be flanked by Akeem Auguste, who is making the transition from free safety.
August has struggled making plays on the ball when it is in the air, zero interceptions throughout his career, which is a worry for the USC defense. He must show better ball skills in making this transition or opposing offenses will pick him apart.
D.J. Swearinger will headline the back half of the secondary, and he is a do everything talent. The 5'11, 206 pound, junior was phenomenal at the strong safety position. He will be joined in the back half by the talented Jimmy Legree.
Several other players will be battling for time in the secondary, including C.C. Whitlock, Corey Addison and Sharrod Golightly.
Will Clowney live up to the hype?
We have watched many football programs over the decades of college football attempt to transition into elite territory. However, the majority just become a flash in the pan. Is South Carolina poised to be different? Does Spurrier have the talent on hand to progress past a nine-win season? Can they put the terrible SEC Championship and bowl game performances behind them?
We will find out early in the season if they have the ability to repeat. They play the Georgia Bulldogs on September 10th and could immediately gain an upper hand.
That being said, this team has too much talent to not be a factor. Talented skill position players, a dominant defensive line and a coach who still knows a thing or two about football and you have a concoction for success. This team will will the SEC East and they will compete for a BCS bowl and, if things all go in their favor, can compete for a National Championship.
Last Years Record: 9-5
Projected 2011 Record: 11-1