South Carolina Preview: Gamecocks Look For Breakthrough Season

The ACC and SEC BlogSenior Analyst IAugust 19, 2009

TAMPA, FL - JANUARY 01:  Eric Baker #28 of the South Carolina Gamecocks runs upfield against the Iowa Hawkeyes during the Outback Bowl on January 1, 2009 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

We kick off the SEC Previews in Columbia where we talk with the Garnet and Black Attack about the South Carolina Gamecocks. Steve Spurrier enters his fifth season as head coach coming off the most successful run in South Carolina history since 1928-34. Still, the "head ball coach" has been able to get the Gamecocks over the SEC East hump and into a BCS bowl.

Is it settled with Stephen Garcia at QB or does Spurrier have the trigger finger ready if Garcia slumps? Who is the backup?

I'd say it's more or less settled. People have taken Spurrier to task over the last few years for giving his quarterbacks such short leashes, but you have to remember that he's had trouble finding someone who could distinguish himself. In other words, the backups really haven't been much worse than the starters. That's not the case this year.

As far as we know, Garcia is by far the best quarterback in the group, mainly because of the inexperience of the other guys. Would Spurrier pull him? Maybe. However, I think it'll only happen if things get really bad, as there's just not really any indication that the backups are capable of helping us win big games.

Garcia is also the leading returning rusher. Who is going to step up at tailback this year?

News out of practice is that Brian Maddox will be the starter. Spurrier tabbed him as the starter during the spring and he's continued to distinguish himself. However, you can also expect freshman Jarvis Giles, RS freshman Kenny Miles, and sophomore Bryce Sherman to get some carries. Giles got a lot of attention in the spring but has been a little shaky during August practices; he has had trouble protecting the football and catching passes.

Miles looks better at this point. Sherman is an interesting player that not many non-USC people know about yet. He was apparently on the track team last year and walked onto the football team this year. As you can imagine, he's fast, and he apparently has some moves too. He's a little small for an SEC back, but I'm beginning to believe that he'll be a part of the offense this year. Expect to see Spurrier try to get him the ball in space to utilize his wheels.

Same goes for the receivers with the top two gone. Who are the names to watch out for here?

Most of the receivers have been shaky in practice so far, so I'm not certain who will be the go-to guy. TE Weslye Saunders has been playing well, but past him, no one out of the large group of players part of the receiver rotation last year has distinguished himself. Jason Barnes and Moe Brown both had their moments last year, and I would expect they'll continue to get looks.

Spurrier has said he will try to get freshman Alshon Jeffery on the field a good bit. Another guy to watch out for that non-USC people may not have heard about yet is Tori Gurley. Gurley is a tall receiver that some have compared to Sidney Rice in his ability to pull down jump balls. Whoever it is, we really need one of these guys to step up to replace Kenny McKinley.

The offensive line has three starters back and a new coach. How much can this unit improve on the 94 rush yards per game and 39 sacks from a year ago?

Reports from practice are that the line is much better this year. We should have some semblance of a running game this year, which just wasn't the case last year, when we couldn't run on anybody. I think the main difference is the coaching change. New coach Eric Wolford is considered one of the best in the business, whereas it's no secret that former coach John Hunt simply wasn't doing a great job here.

Spurrier and Wolford committed to improving the run game in the offseason, and indications so far are that it will show this year. The sack count should also go down this year, not only because of improved line play but also because Garcia is capable of evading sacks with his scrambling abilities more than Chris Smelley was.

The front seven has four starters back plus former starter Rodney Paulk. Will this unit move into the top tier of SEC defenses?

The front seven should be among the league's best. The question marks are in the secondary, where we'll be replacing four guys now in the NFL. We have talent in the secondary, but the problem is that most of it is inexperienced. Depth will also be a problem in the secondary. If the secondary comes through, however, I think this defense can be one of the league's best overall.

The secondary lost 100 career starts from last season. Who needs to step and replace Emanuel Cook and Captain Munnerlyn?

The biggest question is how quickly talented freshmen Stephon Gilmore and DeVonte Holloman can grow up. If they have growing pains, we could be in trouble. Junior Addison Williams will also be called on to contribute more this year. He's been inconsistent in the past, so it's important for him to be better.

The other main guys in the rotation (Chris Culliver, Darian Stewart, and Akeem Auguste) should be fine and will carry the unit.

Who are the freshman that could make a significant impact this year?

Gilmore and Holloman project to start in the secondary. Giles should see significant touches out of the back field. Jeffery will play at wide receiver. I've heard that DJ Swearinger has played well in practices and could be a part of the cornerback rotation.

The Gamecocks lost six assistants in the offseason. Was this Spurrier's decision or the individual coaches' decisions?

Depends on the particular coach. Offensive line coach John Hunt was dismissed after we fielded yet another bad line last year. Other coaches such as special teams coach Ray Rychleski left for other jobs. Personally, I'm happy with all the moves. We brought in some talented new coaches to replace the ones we lost.

South Carolina again plays two ACC teams this year. How do you see them faring against NC State and Clemson? Who else would you like to see the Gamecocks match up against in the ACC?

I think we'll win both games. I could be wrong, but I'm frankly not convinced that N. C. State will be significantly better this year. Russell Wilson is certainly a nice player, but the story out of spring practice and early August practices is that their line isn't holding up well. If that's the case and our defense is able to spend a lot of time in the State backfield, State will be in trouble. If the line plays well, though, I think State will be a tough out, as they do have talent at the skills positions.

Clemson is a little trickier. We've traditionally had a lot of trouble with the Tigers in our annual rivalry game, but this year I think that if we can defend the run well against them, we should be able to win. The game is in Columbia this year, which is also a plus.

I'd love to see more games against ACC teams. Because South Carolina was once in the ACC, we have a lot of old rivals from the conference, among them N. C. State, UNC, and Virginia. I'd personally like to see us play UNC more often, as well as continued games agaisnt State.

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Games against the new blood in the ACC, such as Florida State and Miami, would also be interesting. The last time we played Miami (late 80s), though, there was a nasty brawl, so I'm not sure if the two schools are willing to organize a rematch. Georgia Tech might be another interesting opponent, considering that the schools are close to each other.

What is your prediction for South Carolina and what bowl will they go to?

I'm predicting 8-4, with the losses coming to Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas, and Florida. That should get us into either the Outback Bowl or the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

My Thoughts on South Carolina...

The Gamecocks have put together a consistently winning football program under Spurrier, but it has not reached the expectations that came with his arrival. I think the former Florida coach gives it three or four more years to get to Atlanta before he hangs it up. The biggest down fall thus far is the lack of a quarterback, which is surprising for a Spurrier club. We will see this year if Garcia can live up to his hype, but he really needs an improved running game or this offense is not going anywhere.

One thing Spurrier has been able to count on in his time in Columbia is defense. The Brinkley brothers are gone as are some top flight defensive backs, but the Gamecocks have recruited well on this side of the ball. They should be tough against the run, which is very important in the SEC.

Any SEC schedule is going to be difficult but South Carolina also has to face two potential bowl teams from the ACC. The Gamecocks open the season with 10 straight games before a bye week. Ultimately, Spurrier has to settle on a QB and improve on the -11 turnover margin from last year to get this team to major bowl. Otherwise, it is another lower SEC bowl and middle of the pack finish.

My Prediction...
6-6, 3-5, Bowl Game

Best Case Scenario: 8-4
Worst Case Scenario: 5-7

Vegas Odds:
BCS Championship 75/1
SEC Championship 20/1 (tied for 6th)
Win Total 6.5

Thanks again to Garnet and Black Attack for their insight.

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