#18(t) South Carolina Gamecocks
LOOKING BACK ON 2010
South Carolina finally broke through like everyone had been waiting for under Steve Spurrier. In the Ol’ Ball Coach’s 5th year in Columbia, he finally led the Gamecocks to the SEC East crown. But, how impressive was South Carolina’s Eastern Division title? They still only went 5-3 in the SEC, and let’s face it; they won the East thanks to the division being much weaker than usual with perennial top dogs Florida and Georgia suffering through rebuilding years.
But, nonetheless, South Carolina had a good season, and made it to Atlanta for the SEC Championship game for the first time in school history, albeit a forgetful performance against Auburn in the Georgia Dome that saw the Gamecocks get blasted by 39 points.
Even with a forgetful performance in the SEC Championship game, Gamecock fans can still look back on 2010 as a success, and hopefully a stepping stone for bigger and better things for the program. South Carolina won 9 games, and the highlight of their season came in Columbia when they knocked off defending National Champion Alabama, and ended the Tide’s 19-game winning streak.
Consistency still plagued the Gamecocks as they lost in Lexington to Kentucky the week after dethroning the Crimson Tide.
After getting blown-out by Auburn in the SEC Championship game, you would have thought the Gamecocks would have came out in the Chick-fil-A Bowl with a chip on their shoulders against Florida State.
Instead, the “Noles defeated South Carolina 26-17 to give South Carolina its fifth loss of the season.
South Carolina has a lot of returning talent, but something tells me that 5-3 in the SEC will not earn a return trip to the Georgia Dome in 2011.
The biggest reason for optimism that South Carolina can return to the SEC Championship is the offensive firepower returning to Columbia. The biggest question mark offensively for the Gamecocks is the QB position. Stephen Garcia was suspended by Steve Spurrier indefinitely for the fifth time, but Garcia has been welcomed back to the team for what is his last chance. Even with Garcia seemingly back in the fold in Columbia, his starting job isn’t safe with sophomore Connor Shaw nipping at his heels to take over the starting position. We all know that Spurrier has his QB’s on a short leash, and he benched Garcia on more than one occasion last year in favor of the then freshman Shaw. It’s Garcia’s job to lose in the fall, in what seems like his 12th year on campus, and the success of the team rests on his booze soaked shoulders.
Fortunately for either Garcia or Shaw, they have one of the best tailbacks in the nation behind them in Marcus Lattimore. Last season, Lattimore shattered the school’s freshman rushing record, recording 1,197 yards and putting the team on his back on a number of occasions, specifically in games against Eastern Division rivals Georgia and Florida, where he carried the ball 37 and 40 times respectively. It’s going to be interesting to see what Lattimore has in store for an encore of his spectacular freshman campaign. Lattimore’s backup, Kenny Miles, will need to be more effective running the ball than he was last year (3.8 YPC). Miles will be counted on in order to keep Lattimore from having too many miles on his legs at the end of the season.
Garcia and Shaw will have the luxury of throwing to one of the best wide receivers in the nation, Alshon Jeffery. The All-American receiver had 88 receptions for 1517 yards, and 9 touchdowns last season. Jeffery had eight 100+ yard receiving games, and averaged over 17 yards per catch in 2010. Outside of Jeffery though, the Gamecocks don’t have another receiver that had more than 25 catches last season. Guys like Ace Sanders, D.L. Moore, Jason Barnes, and Justice Cunningham will need to step up in 2011 to prevent Jeffery from seeing consistent double-teams.
South Carolina returns three starters from last season’s offensive line, but that’s not necessarily a good thing. The Gamecocks gave up 30 sacks last season (2.14 per game), and they’ll need the line to protect its QB battle better this season, if South Carolina wants to win their second straight division title. Senior left tackle Kyle Nunn, junior center T.J Johnson, and senior right guard Rokevious Watkins are returning starters from 2010, with freshman A.J. Cann taking over at left guard, and junior Kaleb Broome the new right tackle. The offensive line will not only need to protect Garcia and Shaw better, but they will need to open up holes for Lattimore to get loose in the running game.
South Carolina’s defense struggled at times last season, with a lot of underclassmen seeing significant playing time. But, the defense returns seven starters from last season, and adds on some potential game changers. The defensive line is one of the best in the country. The Gamecocks were 7th in the nation last year in sacks with 41. South Carolina returns two starters from last season’s defensive line, and another that saw a lot of playing time. Devin Taylor and Melvin Ingram combined for 16.5 sacks in 2010, and Travian Robertson is versatile enough to play every position on the line. To go along with those three, the Gamecocks welcome in the nation’s #1 recruit Jadeveon Clowney, who is an absolute freak on tape. A lot of people were worried about him qualifying academically, but according to his high school coach, he has qualified. Clowney will be counted on to make a big impact, and his sheer presence on the line should give Taylor and Ingram more opportunities to rack up sacks this season.
Even with an undersized group of linebackers, South Carolina’s run defense did its job in 2010. They ranked 12th in the nation against the run, allowing just over 112 yards per game. Shaq Wilson missed almost all of last season with a hamstring injury, and his return bolsters the Gamecock’s linebackers. Rodney Paulk wasn’t a starter last season, but he’s seen plenty of playing time during his stay in Columbia. DeVonte Holloman makes the move from strong safety to outside linebacker for South Carolina, and that should improve the unit. A starter last season, Antonio Allen, should provide the Gamecocks with good depth.
The question mark for South Carolina’s defense is once again the secondary. They were abysmal against the pass last season, ranking 97th in the nation, allowing over 241 yards per game in 2010. Their secondary let them down big time in the SEC Championship game, as they allowed Auburn to throw for 351 yards en route to the 56-17 beat down. The reigning Eastern Division champions return three starters in the secondary, with Corey Addison taking over at strong safety since DeVonte Holloman made the move to outside linebacker. Junior Stephon Gilmore struggled at times last season, but still led the team in tackles (79), and interceptions (3). Across from Gilmore will be Akeem Auguste, who moves back to corner from free safety. Free safety DJ Swearinger busted onto the scene last season with 62 tackles. Sophomore Corey Addison will be thrown into the fire at strong safety this season. Addison has 7 career tackles, and they’ll need him to adapt to a starting role quickly. This secondary should be improved from 2010, but don’t expect a giant leap forward for the group.
SPECIAL TEAMS ANALYSIS
South Carolina will have to replace Spencer Lanning, who did both the kicking and punting last season for the Gamecocks. He was 17/24 on field goals (70.8%), down from his junior season (85.0%), but he was one of the better punters in the nation, averaging 44.1 yards per punt. It’s not going to be easy to replace Lanning, and we’ve seen in the past that the kicking game can mean the difference in 10 wins and 8 wins. North Carolina transfer Jay Wooten has the best shot at taking over at kicker, but he will be pushed by Joey Scribner-Howard. Freshman Patrick Fish has big shoes to fill punting the ball.
Chris Culliver is no longer around to return kicks, but South Carolina has an exciting freshman Damiere Byrd, who supposedly runs a sub 4.3 40, taking his place. Stephon Gilmore will see some time back returning punts, but look for the bulk of that duty to fall on Ace Sanders, who returned 20 punts last season. The Gamecocks would rather not risk injury to their top cornerback on returning punts if they can help it.
South Carolina enters the 2011 season as the favorite to represent the East in the SEC Championship Game. They have two of the best playmakers in the conference in Lattimore and Jeffery, but they still have a lot of question marks, specifically at QB. South Carolina’s schedule does them no favors with a trip to Athens to face one of their biggest competitions in the East the second week of the season. They do get Florida at home this year, but they face a murderer’s row of three straight road games in mid October to early November in Starkville, Knoxville, and Fayetteville. If South Carolina can survive that stretch, then they should be in good position in the East race.
But, ultimately I think the Gamecocks are going to pull up 2nd in the division race. I still think the team will win 9 games, but I don’t expect 5-3 in the SEC to get it done again. The East will be a three-team race between South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, and I expect the Gamecocks to come up just short of a second straight trip to Atlanta.