With college football season fast approaching, and as the day count reaches single digits, we border the top 10 in our Rant Sports 100 teams in 100 days college football preview. Today we take a look at the 11th ranked team in the Rant Sports Preseason top 25, the South Carolina Gamecocks.
The Gamecocks come into 2012 with plenty of talent on both side sides of the ball as Steve Spurrier has quietly and slowly built a winner in Columbia, a place where few have found success before. Not only has South Carolina returned to the national stage with last season’s 11-2 record, but the Ol’ Ball Coach’s swagger has returned as well.
In the south, it is known that when Spurrier begins talking a little smack, he likes what he has in his team. When you look at the Gamecocks, there is plenty to like.
After taking over for Steven Garcia early in 2011, Connor Shaw is set to return at quarterback in 2012. Shaw is not the typical Spurrier quarterback who can sling the football down the field at will, however he is the game manager under center that has proven to be successful in the new Southeastern Conference.
Shaw won’t likely be mentioned in the discussion for the top QB in the country after last year’s 14 touchdown, 6 interception performance. But Shaw does not have to be the star on this offense; he just has to be the compliment to a very talented running game. Remember, the LSU Tigers and Alabama Crimson Tide, winners of 3 of the last 5 national championships have done so with a game manager at quarterback.
The reason Shaw does not have to play any bigger than his skill set, is because of the 6-foot, 230lb behemoth that stands behind him at running back, Marcus Lattimore. Although he was limited to just seven games last season Lattimore still was able to rush for nearly 900 yards and 10 touchdowns. However the question remains, is Lattimore fully healthy?
While Lattimore’s health is a big concern, the bigger concern will be finding out who steps up to fill the shoes of Alshon Jeffery, who departed to the NFL. The Gamecocks receiving corps is not deep, nor does it feature much size. Ace Sanders and Bruce Ellington are the two leading receivers returning, however both stand under five-nine. This could mean highly touted true freshman Shaq Roland, at just a hair under six foot-two, may be called upon early and often.
The South Carolina defense has long been led by Ellis Johnson, but the former Gamecock Defensive Coordinator has since left his post to take over the head coaching position at Southern Miss. Although there has been a change in coaches, Lorenzo Ward has long been a member of the South Carolina coaching staff, allowing for a smooth transition.
Jadeveon Clowney will anchor the defensive line this year after the loss of Melvin Ingram, but don’t forget about senior Devin Taylor opposite of Clowney. Combined, the pair accounted for 14 sacks and 20.5 tackles for a loss in 2011. Now with another year of experience under their belt, the duo will give opposing offensive tackles fits and quarterbacks nightmares.
In the linebacking corps Antonio Allen and Rodney Paulk will be missed, but fortunately for South Carolina, the position features plenty of depth. Shaq Wilson will anchor the unit after 52 tackles and 5 tackles for loss in 2011. Joining Wilson will be likely be DeVonte Holloman and Demario Jeffery, each who appeared in 11 games last season.
Like many teams in the Southeastern Conference the Gamecocks have a few questions marks in the secondary. DJ Swearinger will anchor the unit at free safety, but the biggest question will be how South Carolina will replace Stephon Gilmore, a top 10 draft pick in last year’s NFL Draft. Senior Akeem Auguste looked to be the favorite to fill the void, however, he fell to injury(right thigh) and will be out indefinitely.
Although talented, South Carolina will certainly have some road bumps along the way in 2012. The first test of the season will come right off the bat against James Franklin’s revived Vanderbilt Commodores; a game by no stretch of the imagination will be a gimmie.
The schedule will cool down for a couple games, then during October, we’ll begin to find out just what South Carolina is made of starting with an October 6th matchup with the Georgia Bulldogs. The following week the Gamecocks have to head to Baton Rouge to face the Tigers. And as if that wasn’t tough enough, South Carolina has two divisional games in the following weeks against up-and-comers Florida and Tennessee.
After one of the toughest schedules in October, things won’t get much easier to close out the season with a November 10th date against the Arkansas Razerbacks and a season finale against the Clemson Tigers.
South Carolinais a good team, but there are plenty of challenges lining their schedule. Honestly I would be surprised if they make it through October unscathed, but if they do, Spurrier will have his team in a good position to return to Atlanta for the 2nd time in 3 years.