10 Questions South Carolina Football Must Answer This Offseason
10 Questions South Carolina Football Must Answer This Offseason
These are the glory days for the South Carolina Gamecocks. They are coming off their third-straight 11-win season, third-straight bowl victory and fifth-straight win over the in-state rival Clemson Tigers. They finished the 2013 season ranked No. 4 in the country, their highest ranking to end a season in school history.
Are the glory days here to stay? Steve Spurrier thinks so as he extended his contract through the 2018 season. The contract extension comes with a raise as the HBC will now make $4 million a year. The most successful coach in school history feels there are still goals yet to accomplish. An SEC title would be Spurrier’s crowning achievement. It is a goal he set for himself and the program when he arrived in 2005. Spurrier has now coached nine seasons in garnet and black and in six of those seasons, the SEC champion was the national champion. Being the best team in the SEC usually means you are the best team in the country. Winning the SEC is a lofty goal indeed, especially considering the historical track record of the Gamecock program.
The Gamecocks were one of the youngest teams in the country in 2013 and despite that managed to beat three teams ranked in the top 15 and two that went on to win BCS bowl games. Their final fourth place ranking is impressive and at the same time agonizing. The Gamecocks would just lose two games all season, one of which was a costly loss to the Tennessee Volunteers. It would be the only conference win for the Vols. A win in Knoxville and it would have been the Gamecocks in Atlanta facing Auburn for the right to face Florida State in the national title game. Was this season Spurrier’s best coaching job ever? Maybe, but the loss to Tennessee had Spurrier’s fingerprints all over it.
The Gamecocks lose their marquee players in Connor Shaw and Jadeveon Clowney, but return a ton of talent. The schedule gets tougher in 2014 as they will have to face both Texas A&M and Auburn from the SEC West. Their annual in-state rivalry game with Clemson is on the road.
The path to winning the SEC East runs right through Columbia, S.C. as both Georgia and Missouri will face the Gamecocks in Williams-Brice Stadium. Before the Gamecocks can make their run to Atlanta, they have some questions that need to be answered.
Will the Gamecocks stay healthy?
You are only as good as your health. This lesson was evident throughout the SEC last year. The Gamecocks remained relatively unscathed. Could their good health fortune be coming to an end? The Gamecocks continue to get deeper, but a key injury in the secondary or defensive line where depth are issues could spell disaster for the Gamecocks.
Where will the latest recruiting class rank nationally?
Recruiting rankings can be very deceiving. The Gamecocks' latest recruiting class is currently ranked anywhere from 21st to 25th depending on what website you read. The ranking may get better and it may get worse as we enter a big recruiting weekend. The Gamecocks had one of the youngest teams in the country last year which leads to a much smaller recruiting class this year. The small class hurts the overall ranking based on the formula many of these recruiting services use. To put it in perspective, only two schools have a class as small as the Gamecocks with a higher recruiting ranking. Those programs are Georgia and Michigan. The class currently consists of 17 commitments, seven of which are ranked in the ESPN 300.
Will the trash talk with Dabo continue?
The trash talk began in 2011 when Dabo Swinney went off on a post practice rant about the rivalry not really being a rivalry. The Gamecock win streak over Clemson was only three games at the time. It has now grown to five and Steve Spurrier is more than happy to remind Dabo and the Clemson Tigers all about it. Both Dabo and Spurrier say the right things leading up to the big game each November, it is what happens the other 51 weeks of the year that gets the headlines. Some feel it is staged, others feel it is Spurrier’s way of making sure Dabo knows where he stands in the trash talking feud that Dabo started.
Who will replace Jadeveon Clowney?
Jadeveon Clowney is moving on to the NFL, but he is not the only person the Gamecocks will be losing from the defensive line. Kelcy Quarles and Chaz Sutton will also be gone. This leaves many questions about the defensive line rotation. Darius English will be looked upon to try and fill the big shoes of Clowney. He needs to add some weight, but has the potential to disrupt the opponent’s passing game.
Abu Lamin is a four-star recruit at defensive tackle. The 6-foot-5, 315-pound prospect out of junior college should pay immediate dividends in trying to replace Quarles. Look for Kelsey Griffin and Phillip Dukes to also emerge at defensive tackle and push J.T. Surrat and Gerald Dixon Jr. for playing time.
Will Shaq Roland stay out of trouble?
Shaq Roland admitted he wasted his freshman year with a bad attitude and a questionable work ethic. He began his sophomore year suspended for breaking team rules. Roland finished his sophomore season showing signs of a big time threat in the passing game. Roland could be primed for a big junior year and Connor Shaw’s replacement is going to need him badly. It is all up to Roland. His potential is off the charts.
Who will replace Bruce Ellington?
Bruce Ellington was arguably the most valuable player on the roster the last couple of seasons. He was versatile and had a knack for making the big play when a big play was needed. Enter Pharoh Cooper. He came to camp last year slated to be a defensive back, but Spurrier saw something he liked. Cooper became an increasingly effective weapon as the season went on and saved his best for Clemson, a trait shared by Ellington.
Will more emphasis be placed on improving the special teams?
Probably not. The Gamecocks in their best years tend to be very average when it comes to special teams, and the majority of the time their special teams is downright awful. Will this be the year their special teams causes them a loss to an inferior team that ruins their season? Practice time is limited in college and coaches have a tough job getting everything in that they want to get in. Special teams preparation tends to suffer because of this. This is clear when watching the Gamecocks' special teams under Steve Spurrier. Do they practice it at all?
Who will emerge in the secondary?
The Gamecocks' secondary is going to look a lot like the Gamecock linebacking corps did this past season, young! The Gamecocks are losing cornerbacks Victor Hampton and Jimmy Legree. Cornerback Ahmad Christian left the team before the bowl game and will be transferring. Christian, who is just a sophomore, would have been the only CB with meaningful experience returning. The Gamecocks will now have to rely mainly on freshman recruits.
If there ever was a good year in the SEC to be inexperienced at cornerback, this could be the year. The SEC is losing many of its top quarterbacks going into the 2014 season. The Gamecocks open the season against Texas A&M without Johnny Manziel, play Georgia in Week 3 without Aaron Murray and end the season at Clemson, who will be without Tajh Boyd. The young linebacker group was embarrassed by a very healthy Georgia offense last year early in the season. The young cornerbacks may get a break early in the 2014 season giving them time to improve as the season goes along much like the linebackers did this past year.
Who will win the quarterback job?
All signs point to Dylan Thompson. He has had his moments, most notably beating Clemson in Death Valley in 2012. There was even a strong faction of the fanbase who wanted Thompson to get the job over Connor Shaw going into last season. Shaw quieted that talk with one of the best seasons for a quarterback in Gamecock history.
Connor Mitch is the wild card. A big time recruit who redshirted last year may push Thompson for the job. Spurrier loves him and during the recruiting process promised Mitch that he would be the coach of the Gamecocks for as long as Mitch was at the University of South Carolina.
Will Spurrier focus more on the running game?
Connor Shaw is not walking through that door. Shaw was a classic dual-threat quarterback who could throw the ball and turn broken plays into big plays with his speed and running ability. Dylan Thompson and Connor Mitch have the ability to be very good quarterbacks, but neither possess quite the athletic ability of Shaw.
What the Gamecocks do have is a solid offensive line and some potentially great running backs. Mike Davis will enter next season as one of the best running backs in the SEC. Davis was slowed at the end of this past season with some nagging injuries. He will get help this season carrying load with phenom David Williams, who was redshirted this past season and is said to be the real deal. Davis and Williams could potentially be a very special backfield in Columbia next season.
With the likes of Davis, Williams, Brandon Wilds and Pharoh Cooper running out of the wildcat occasionally, the Gamecocks have a chance to really rack up the yardage on the ground. Will Steve Spurrier go for it, though? Spurrier’s play calling the past couple of seasons has been puzzling at times. The horrible loss to Tennessee last year was Spurrier at his worst. He abandoned the running game with the lead and the rest was history.The Gamecocks' strength offensively in 2014 will be on the ground; will Spurrier adapt to take advantage of it?