Can South Carolina improve upon this year's 10-win season next year?
Sure they can. The Gamecocks come back in 2012 with a loaded team again, with some new faces that should add a great deal of talent to the group.
Here are the guys that I project to be the starters for 2012 on both offense and defense:
Quarterback: Connor Shaw
6-1 as a starter with the tools to be a very good dual threat.
Running Back: Marcus Lattimore
The SEC's best back will return with a vengeance.
Fullback: Matt Coffee/Brandon Wilds
Matt Coffee is a more traditional fullback, but Brandon Wilds played too well to stay off the field. Wilds will likely split time as a running back and fullback with Shon Carson coming back from injury to back up Lattimore.
Wide Receiver 1: Ace Sanders
Ace is an explosive player who showed flashes of brilliance this year.
Wide Receiver 2: Shamiere Jeffery/Shaq Roland
The toughest position for me to pick. The safe bet would be to pick DeAngelo Smith or Lamar Scruggs for this spot, but I think that true freshman Shaq Roland (if he stays on offense) or redshirt freshman Shamiere "Alshon's Brother" Jeffery will play into this spot.
Slot: Damiere Byrd
The explosive Byrd didn't have much of a chance to shine this season. The four-game suspension at the beginning of the year really killed his heavy momentum heading into the season. Nick Jones could be a candidate.
Tight End: Justice Cunningham
Justice is a great blocker with a workmanlike attitude. He also has pretty good pass-catching skills, but Buster Anderson will do most of that from the tight end position.
Left Tackle: Brandon Shell
The 6'6" five-star freshman had to be redshirted this year due to a lingering injury. However, he's been back at practice and has the ability to be dominant. He will be a special player.
Left Guard: AJ Cann
Showed tremendous promise this season as a freshman. He will be a great guard.
Center: TJ Johnson
A grizzled veteran, Johnson will be a looked upon to be a line leader.
Right Guard: Kaleb Broome
I am penciling in Kaleb Broome for now. Freshman Joe Harris could make a run at this spot when he gets to Columbia.
Right Tackle: Mike Matulis
This player could easily win the most-improved award for the 2011 season. He should be locked into this spot for years to come.
Right Defensive End: Devin Taylor
Rumor has it that Devin Taylor will come back. He had another great season this year but was overshadowed by those "other" defensive ends on the team.
Defensive Tackle 1: Kelcy Quarles
I have no doubts that Kelcy Quarles has the potential to be the next Melvin Ingram. He showed a knack for the big play this year as a bench player. He will earn a starting spot.
Defensive Tackle 2: Aldrick Fordham
Aldrick played very well this season. He could potentially lose his spot to someone like Phillip Dukes, however.
Left Defensive End: Jadeveon Clowney
He will own every sack record at South Carolina by the time he is done.
Outside Linebacker: Reginald Bowens
Reginald was a solid, if not spectacular player at linebacker. By no means is this a lock.
Middle Linebacker: Shaq Wilson
Shaq comes back for his ninth year of eligibility (so it seems), and will be a solid All-SEC type performer. He's a smart, fast player who knows the defense.
Outside Linebacker: Cedrick Cooper
Cedrick Cooper was redshirted this year but is poised to break out. He could be a great one for the Gamecocks. However, his position is also not a lock.
Corner 1: Stephon Gilmore
Once again, rumor has it that he is planning on returning for his senior year. I hope that is the case, because he could do great things for the university and improve his already formidable draft stock. If he does leave, look for Victor Hampton to take his place.
Corner 2: Victor Hampton
If he can keep his head on straight, he could be the next superstar corner out of DBU. Other candidates for this spot are Akeem Auguste, who returns from injury, and Martay Mattox, a redshirt freshman who has all kinds of ability.
Spur: DeVonte Holloman
After moving to safety this year, he really lit up the defensive back field with his excellent play. However, he will probably move back to spur linebacker to soften the blow of losing All-SEC performer Antonio Allen.
Safety: Sharrod Golightly
A star in the making, Sharrod could actually switch spots with DeVonte Holloman, which I think would be great.
All in all, the team returns a great deal of talent. It's still a young team, so you could possibly expect some growing pains. But 2012 and 2013 look like very bright years indeed.
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