CFN Preview 2013 - South Carolina Gamecocks
Posted May 15, 2013 2013 Preview - South Carolina Gamecocks

South Carolina Gamecocks

Preview 2013

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By Pete Fiutak

Head coach: Steve Spurrier
9th year: 66-37
24th year: 208-77-2
Returning Lettermen: 36
Off. 19, Def. 16, ST 1
Lettermen Lost: 24
Ten Best USC Players
1. DE Jadeveon Clowney, Jr.
2. DT Kelcy Quarles, Jr.
3. CB Victor Hampton, Jr.
4. DE Chaz Sutton, Sr.
5. CB Jimmy Legree, Sr.
6. QB Connor Shaw, Sr.
7. RB Mike Davis, Soph.
8. WR Bruce Ellington, Jr.
9. OT Corey Robinson, Jr.
10. OT Brandon Shell, Soph.
2013 Schedule
8/31 North Carolina
9/7 at Georgia
9/14 Vanderbilt
9/28 at UCF
10/5 Kentucky
10/12 at Arkansas
10/19 at Tennessee
10/26 at Missouri
11/2 Mississippi State
11/16 Florida
11/23 Coastal Carolina
11/30 Clemson
So what's missing?

The Steve Spurrier tenure marks the greatest era in South Carolina football history, and it's not even close, but for all the success of two straight 11-2 campaigns and an appearance in the 2010 SEC championship, it's still the SEC and true greatness is measured by winning titles.

Just ask Georgia.

Spurrier has amassed a dizzying array of great athletes, putting together some fantastic teams built on speed and aggressiveness, but it hasn't been enough to make that last little push to get over the hump. Ten years ago going to the Outback and Capital One bowls might have been worth doing cartwheels over, but now South Carolina has to come up with something more or risk being stuck.

The program has seen what success looks like, but as close as it has come to true greatness, it has also seen just how far it has to go and just how impossible it is to get a turn on the SEC wheel of championships.

Everyone in the SEC has great athletes and all the top programs are loaded with NFL talent. So, again, what's missing? Why can't South Carolina be the one to come up with an 11-1 regular season, get into the SEC title game, win it, and be the one to rumble over whatever sacrificial lamb comes out of some other poor schmuck league?

It was all right there for the taking over the last two seasons. A stunning 16-13 loss to Auburn in 2011 could've gone either way, with a win meaning a shot at LSU possibly leading to a shot at Alabama for the BCS championship. Last year, a late rally against LSU came up short in a 23-21 loss. Had the defense been able to hold off just one of the Tigers' three field-goal producing drives in the fourth quarter, a win might have meant a shot against Alabama – after all the wacky tie-breaking procedures - possibly leading to a shot at Notre Dame for the BCS championship.

But every top SEC team has a story. Florida, LSU and Georgia could certainly do the "if only" thing last season, and LSU could certainly wonder what life would've been like two years ago had Oklahoma State not gagged against Iowa State. And that's the difference for SEC teams between the Outback Bowl and a BCS championship - one mistake. One miss. One wrong play. One close game that could've gone the other way. There's a narrow-thin margin in the best conference in college football, and to get on the other side, South Carolina has to do absolutely everything right and get a little luck along the way.

Getting the right breaks starts with the schedule, and USC can't ask for anything more than missing Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M from the West and getting Florida at home. It's obviously a stretch to call it a one game season, but if the Gamecocks beat Georgia in Athens early on, it might not be the underdog the rest of the way. Even if they lose, there's still not another game on the slate they can't win, and that includes Clemson, North Carolina and Mississippi State, who all have to come to Columbia, and 11-1 could possibly get it done.

The offensive line could be the best yet under Spurrier, the secondary is going to be air tight, and there's a freak of nature from another planet working on the defensive line who'll take all the heat and attention away from everyone else. Jadeveon Clowney is a special player, and this just might be a special team if Spurrier can work just enough magic at running back and linebacker to get by.

Close isn't enough anymore for one of the premier programs in college football – yes, right now, South Carolina is one of the premier programs in college football – and the only place to go from 11-2 is 12-1 with an SEC title. This team has the talent to do just that.

What to watch for on offense: A melting pot of athletic stuff. There will be times when SEC fans wonder how the Gamecocks get the job done on offense, but it has some interesting pieces for the Ball Coach to play around with. What does South Carolina have offensively? Spurrier attacks always have something going for them like the fun ‘n' gun, or Marcus Lattimore, but this year's O has a bunch of guys with a whole boatload of potential and not a lot of proven production. The line is full of veterans and the quarterbacks are going to be great, but a slew of really fast, really promising smallish targets who can all blow the top off a secondary. There's no Lattimore, but Mike Davis looks like a keeper in the backfield and Brandon Wilds should produce when given the chance.

What to watch for on defense: The other guys. Everyone will come to see No. 7, but they might leave talking about the other three. Jadeveon Clowney wasn't the only reason the Gamecocks led the SEC in sacks and were so devastating at getting into the backfield on a regular basis. However, some new parts are stepping up on the front four, and they need to shine right away. They will. End Chaz Sutton has all the pro tools to become a breakout star on the other side, while tackles Kelcy Quarles, J.T. Surratt and Gerald Dixon Jr. can all make plays.

The team will be far better if … the ground game works against everyone. The receiving corps is talented, and the quarterbacks are a plus, but they're not going to be good enough to carry the offense to an SEC title. The offensive line is big, experienced, and knows what it's doing, but it's not great in pass protection and it's not nasty enough on a regular basis against the better SEC defensive fronts. That has to change. USC's two worst rushing days last year by far came against Florida (36 yards) and LSU (34 yards), and those just so happened to be the only two losses. The only other game with fewer than 100 yards on the ground was in the bowl win over Michigan, and that took a last-second touchdown pass to get the job done.

The schedule: The season starts out with a bang and never lets up. North Carolina is a dangerous was to open up a campaign, but that's just the warm-up act with the SEC East possibly on the line a week later with a road trip to Georgia. Throw in a date against Vanderbilt, and the Gamecocks have three great tests before hitting September 15th. It's not like they'll need the week off before diving into the middle part of the slate, but they'll get it.

Going to UCF isn't going to be a walk in the park to kick off a run of four road games in five weeks with only a home date against Kentucky to ease the pain. Arkansas, Tennessee and Missouri didn't go bowling last year, but they're all going to be better and they'll all be looking to make a statement at home – but that's it for the travels. The game in Columbia, Missouri on October 26th is the last road date. Mississippi State will be another fight before getting a week off to prepare for the home game against Florida. The team deserves a breather against Coastal Carolina before finishing up with Clemson.

Best offensive player: Senior QB Connor Shaw. He might not even be the full-time starting quarterback considering the strides Dylan Thompson has made, but he's the leader and the main man, at least according to Spurrier. Shaw is coming off a foot injury, and he has to be a bit more consistent, but he's a baller who can take off and make things happen with his legs or push the ball down the field with an accurate arm. He'll do anything to make a play, but he has to keep himself in one piece after getting popped time and time again.

Best defensive player: Junior DE Jadeveon Clowney. The expectations are going to be through the roof – and extremely unfair. There's no question that he's the top pass rushing threat in all of college football, and there's no doubt that he'd be a top five overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft if he decided to pack it in and take a year off to work out and prepare. However, he's going to have all the pressure in the world on his shoulders to come up with lots and lots and lots of sacks, when his main role at times will be to take all the attention away from everyone else. Don't get caught up in the numbers; he'll be fantastic no matter what.

Key player to a successful season: Redshirt freshman C Cody Waldrop. Is this the year the Gamecocks finally have an offensive line that can pass protect? Probably not, but four starters return to a very big, very good group that should be effective enough for the ground game to get by. However, it's missing its ringleader with center T.J. Johnson gone. Waldrop is a big, promising option for the interior at either guard or center, but he'll get the first look in the middle to see if he can handle the workload of quarterbacking the veterans.

The season will be a success if … the Gamecocks play in the SEC title game. Beating USC might be the third or fourth best team in the West, so winning the conference championship might be asking for a bit much, but with a relatively favorable schedule and as many great athletes and dynamic playmakers as any team in the league, getting to Atlanta for the second time in four years is a must.

Key game: Sept. 7 at Georgia. The rest of the SEC season could be an exhibition if the Gamecocks can't get by the Bulldogs in the SEC opener. The Florida game is always important, and the overall schedule isn't that bad with no Alabama, LSU or Texas A&M to deal with from the West, but a loss in Athens would mean Georgia would likely have to lose at least two SEC battles for the Gamecocks to get to the SEC title game, and that could be a problem.

2012 Fun Stats:
- Fourth Quarter Scoring: South Carolina 110 – Opponents 68
- Punt Return Average: South Carolina 14.2 yards – Opponents 4.7 yards
- Rushing Touchdowns: South Carolina 19 – Opponents 9  
- 2013 South Carolina Preview | 2013 South Carolina Offense
- 2013 South Carolina Defense | 2013 South Carolina Depth Chart