South Carolina ranked No. 10, Steve Spurrier eyes first SEC title with Gamecocks
Today at No. 10: South Carolina Gamecocks
Coach: Steve Spurrier (77-39, entering 10th season; 219-79-2 career record)
2013 results: 11-2 (6-2 SEC, second place in East Division)
Offensive starters returning: 8
Offensive starters lost: 3
Defensive starters returning: 6
Defensive starters lost: 5
Key losses: QB Connor Shaw, DE Jadeveon Clowney, WR Bruce Ellington, DT Kelcy Quarles, DE Chaz Sutton, CB Jimmy Legree, CB Victor Hamtpon
Top returnees: RB Mike Davis, WR Shaq Roland, WR Damiere Byrd, QB Dylan Thompson, OT Brandon Snell, G AJ Cann, LB Ska Moore, LB Kaiwan Lewis, S Brison Williams
Look back: The Gamecocks won 11 games and finished in the top-10 for the third consecutive season. However, coach Steve Spurrier came up shy of an elusive SEC title in Columbia.
Senior quarterback Connor Shaw continued his winning ways, highlighted by a comeback from 17 points down in double overtime at Missouri. But All-America defensive end Jadeveon Clowney was nothing like the dominant force he had been in 2012, even though he still ended up the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft based on his awesome physical tools.
A 41-30 loss in Week 2 at Georgia left the Gamecocks playing catch-up, but their hopes to win the SEC East effectively ended with a shocking 23-21 loss at Tennessee. From there, South Carolina reeled off six straight wins, highlighted by victories at Missouri, vs. Clemson and against Wisconsin in the Capital One Bowl.
Strengths: The Gamecocks’ rushing offense will be tough to stop. Tailback Mike Davis is one of the nation’s best and had 1,118 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2013. South Carolina returns four starters on the offensive line, led by senior guard AJ Cann, a three-year starter, and 2013 freshman All-American Brandon Shell, son of NFL Hall of Famer Art Shell. Shaq Roland is a playmaker on the perimeter, while sophomore slot receiver Pharoh Cooper will take over Bruce Ellington’s role. Jerell Adams is a tight end with NFL tools.
Weaknesses: Fifth-year senior quarterback Dylan Thompson stepped in for an injured Shaw and led the team to a win over UCF, the Knights’ only loss last season. But Shaw was a dual-threat player with a 27-5 career record. Thompson, a true pocket passer, will have difficult time matching Shaw’s leadership and grit. Clowney, though, will be tougher to replace because opponents game planned to avoid him, creating opportunities for everyone. Clowney is one of three starters lost on the defensive line, including All-SEC tackle Kelcy Quarles. The secondary is another concern. Both starting cornerbacks are gone, and a few of the five freshmen cornerbacks may play right away.
Outlook: The 69-year-old Spurrier begins his 10th season in Columbia, the longest run of any South Carolina coach since Rex Enright in the 1950s. The school’s first SEC championship would cap Spurrier’s Hall of Fame career. A title is well within reason for the 2014 Gamecocks if Thompson can go from stop-gap to starter and the defensive front develops. The Gamecocks get Georgia and Missouri at home in September, but the schedule toughens during the season’s second half, with visits to Auburn, Florida and Clemson.
Aug. 30 Texas A&M
Sept. 6East Carolina
Sept. 13 Georgia
Sept. 20 at Vanderbilt
Sept. 27 Missouri
Oct. 4 at Kentucky
Oct. 18 Furman
Oct. 25 at Auburn
Nov. 1 Tennessee
Nov. 8 Off
Nov. 15 at Florida
Nov. 22 South Alabama
Nov. 29 at Clemson
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