The SEC has dominated the BCS Championship Game, winning seven of the last eight. However, one of the few teams in the conference that has yet to get in on the fun is the South Carolina Gamecocks. After a third straight 11-win season, Steve Spurrier has the faithful in Columbia, SC, believing that the defense is good enough to have the Gamecocks be the team to get the conference back its National Championship winning ways.
The defense will be the catalyst to realizing those playoff hopes, but the offense will have to play its part as well. The star on that side of the ball is junior Mike Davis, who led the team in rushing in 2013 with 1,183 yards and 11 touchdowns, and has enough big play ability to have his name mentioned with the other great Gamecock backs. He is also the team’s leading returning receiver with 34 receptions for 352 yards.
South Carolina will have a new starter at quarterback in senior Dylan Thompson, but he enters 2014 with a lot of game experience, as he passed for 784 yards and four touchdowns in 10 games last season. He may not be the running threat that Connor Shaw (558 yards six touchdowns) was, but he could bring more stability to the position because he will spend more time on the field than the trainer’s table.
Senior Damiere Byrd, junior Shaq Roland and sophomore Pharoh Cooper all will be counted on to bring more production to the wide receiver position, as they only combined to for 61 receptions for 1,084 yards. Roland is the deep threat, averaging 18.2 yards per reception, while Cooper, a former defensive back, is a triple-threat option after having scored a passing, rushing and receiving touchdown last season.
Whether you bought in to the hype of Jadeveon Clowney or not, you cannot deny the important role he played on the South Carolina defense; he was at the top of every opponents game plan and commanded a double team, so his presence will be missed. In addition to losing Clowney, Spurrier must also replace defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles, who declared for the 2014 NFL Draft as well. If lone returning starter senior defensive tackle J.T. Surratt can get the rest of the defensive line — sophomores Gerald Dixon, Abu Lamin and Darius English — to jell quickly, they could match the success of last season’s defense.
The maturation up front could determine the success of the linebacker group where sophomore Skai Moore is a star in the making — as a true freshman, the Cooper City, FL native led the team in tackles (56) and interceptions (four). Joining him in the rotation will be senior Sharrod Golightly, junior Kaiwan Lewis and fellow sophomore Marcquis Roberts. If this position continues to make strides as it did during last season, this could be the strength of the team.
Senior Brison Williams is a leader of the defensive backfield and there is enough depth at his position that he is being moved to cornerback. With all the shuffling at the position, defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward has to expect more turnovers from the position, as the returners at the position only contributed to three interceptions in 2013.
The Gamecocks open the season with a conference game against SEC opponent Texas A&M. This will be the first game for both teams without their bigger-than-life stars, so while it may not have the fanfare, this could be a good game to start the college season.
South Carolina will face East Carolina, Furman, South Alabama and travel to Clemson in their non-conference schedule. The in-state rivalry game at “Death Valley” at the end of the season could go to determining if the Gamecocks are in contention for the college football playoffs.
The rest of the SEC home schedule includes games with Georgia, Missouri and Tennessee. South Carolina will be looking for revenge against Georgia and Tennessee, as they handed the Gamecocks their only losses in 2013.
They will have to travel to Vanderbilt, Kentucky, Auburn and Florida. Florida is expected to bounce back after a disappointing 4-8 season, but Auburn will provide the biggest road obstacle, as they also have dreams of making the inaugural CFB playoffs.
There is never an off week in the SEC, well unless you are playing Kentucky. However, if Spurrier can be tougher up front against Georgia and slow down Auburn’s complex offense, another 11-win season is within reach, and they could be in contention to be one of the final four teams standing.