It's never too early to look ahead to the future.
South Carolina is coming off a big victory over the Clemson Tigers to add their 10th win to the record books. This is the second time the Gamecocks have reached the double-digit win plateau.
They still have one game remaining, and that will be a bowl game in January. The possibility of an 11-win season is still out there for South Carolina.
It's been a great year for the Gamecocks and one that will certainly increase the expectations for the 2012 season.
There are several key players to watch for the 2012 season, and the next few slides will give you an idea of who might help keep the Gamecocks near the top of the SEC next season.
The Gamecocks' quarterback for 2012 got an early start on his career at South Carolina this season.
Shaw took over for Stephen Garcia in the middle of the 2011 season and never looked back. It was apparent that there was a learning curve involved for the Gamecocks quarterback, and the offense went through its struggles.
However, the Gamecocks kept finding a way to win, and Shaw was at the forefront of the new identity of Steve Spurrier's offense. Shaw helped lead a game-winning drive against Mississippi State. He orchestrated a 20-play, 98-yard touchdown drive against Tennessee to help cushion the 'lead. He used his legs to gain 88 yards and had two rushing touchdowns against Florida.
The most impressive performance was the output he had against Clemson. Shaw was 14-of-20 for 210 yards with three touchdowns and had 107 rushing yards with one touchdown on the ground. Shaw was the field general for this Gamecock offense. He was calm and collected and really looked poised as the South Carolina starting quarterback.
You can tell Shaw has what it takes to run this offense. He's a smart player with a football background. He works hard, and he'll do exactly what coach Spurrier wants him to do. It's important that Shaw continues to get better with each passing week like he did during the 2011 season.
The experiences he gained in 2011 will certainly go a long way toward helping the Gamecocks in 2012. Shaw would have been labeled a question mark heading into the 2012 season, but now he'll be considered a strength for the Gamecocks.
He'll be a big reason for the Gamecocks' success in 2012.
The Gamecocks lose two incredible defensive tackles in Travian Robertson and Melvin Ingram when this season is over.
There is hope though in the form of a freshman by the name of Phillip Dukes.
Dukes was a 4-star recruit out of high school in most recruiting services and was a big-time recruit for South Carolina before they signed defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. Dukes has the size to fill the gap at defensive tackle, and he stands 6'3" tall and weighs 300 pounds. He's also very athletic, having played basketball in high school.
This young defensive tackle looked like a player who would step in and play right away, but the Gamecocks were able to redshirt him due to the emergence of Kelcy Quarles, a true freshman who enrolled in January.
This is a big plus for South Carolina because now they can team the talented Quarles alongside Dukes to form a duo that should be in the mix as starters for the beginning of spring practice in 2012.
Defensive line shouldn't be a problem for the Gamecocks in 2012, and Dukes is a big reason why.
Brandon Shell is an offensive lineman who was destined to be a part of the Gamecocks' offensive line in 2011.
He was a top recruit out of high school from Goose Creek, S.C. Shell is a mammoth tackle on the offensive line, standing 6'6" and weighing 322 pounds. He has the makings of a future left tackle for South Carolina, but he had trouble returning to full health following a shoulder surgery and a heat-related illness in fall practice.
This put the freshman on the track to redshirt this season, and that should give this offensive line a boost for the next four years.
Shell will be expected to step in right away and take over that left tackle spot that was once held by Kyle Nunn, but then had Rokevious Watkins fill in when Nunn suffered a season-ending injury. Nunn will petition the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility in the offseason, but there's not a lot of optimism in that happening. Watkins is out of eligibility after the 2011 season is finished.
This is why Shell is an important piece of the offensive line and could be a key player in 2012. The left tackle spot is Connor Shaw's blind side, and he'll need to be effective from the first day to keep his starting quarterback safe and sound in 2012.
You wouldn't know it, but DeVonte Holloman is not playing the position he was supposed to play this year.
Holloman moved over to the SPUR position, a hybrid linebacker/safety, for this season, but had to play at strong safety this year due to inexperience and injuries in the secondary.
Holloman had himself a fine 2011 season by having 47 total tackles with one interception.
However, Holloman will have to fill the void at the SPUR position when senior Antonio Allen runs out of eligibility. Allen leads the Gamecocks in tackles this year with 87 total tackles. He also has three interceptions this year and three fumble recoveries. He's scored two defensive touchdowns this year for the Gamecocks.
As you can see these are pretty big shoes to fill, but Holloman is up for the job. He's great in run support, being a physical player. He does well close to the line of scrimmage, and he's improving his pass coverage each week, which is something Allen excels at for the Gamecocks.
If he can continue to improve like he has in 2011, then the 2012 season could be the best yet for Holloman. He could follow Allen's footprint and improve his draft status for the NFL with a great season next year.
Holloman will be a big part of the secondary's success in 2012.
Alshon Jeffery is probably getting closer and closer to wrapping up his stellar career. The Gamecocks will need someone to step up in his place in 2012 if the junior elects for the NFL draft like most people expect him to do.
Who can fill the void?
How about his younger brother, Shamier Jeffery?
Shamier was very impressive during the fall camp for the Gamecocks. He seemingly caught all balls thrown his way, but there ended up being a logjam at the wide receiver position for South Carolina, and Shamier ended up with a redshirt season in 2011.
His older brother says he's got some moves out on the field. His high school coach says he's more athletic than Alshon. I think this is a pretty good indication that Shamier could be a good one for the Gamecocks starting in 2012.
He's not quite as tall as his older brother and not as big, but that doesn't mean he can't be a great wide receiver for South Carolina.
Who knows? Maybe he'll turn out better than Alshon.
All I know is that Shamier will do everything he can to keep the Jeffery name yelled in the stands of Williams-Brice in 2012.