After a few days off, I return with my “12 Teams in 12 Days” segment. Today we travel to Columbia, where I will be breaking down the University of South Carolina Gamecocks.
Pretty much known as “The most mediocre program” in college football history. The number one question mark when it comes to the 2011 Gamecocks is which Stephen Garcia will show up this season. It has been a tenure of ups and downs at South Carolina for Garcia. His play on the field is generally full of ups, but when he is away from the field, his life features many downs.
Earlier this year, Garcia received an indefinite suspension following an incident, where Garcia showed up intoxicated at a mandatory offseason event for the football team. But was reinstated just about a month or so ago.
Garcia is third all-time at South Carolina in passing yards (6,753), completions (528), attempts (903), and passing touchdowns (43). He has started 28 consecutive games and has made a team-high 30 career starts overall.
Garcia needs to show that he is capable of learning, maturing, growing and being part of something that has the potential to be very good this year. Because I believe the Cocks are not the same team without him.
The Gamecocks bring back one of the SEC’s best offensive duos in national Freshman-of-the-Year running back Marcus Lattimore and All-America wide receiver and Biletnikoff Award finalist Alshon Jeffrey.
These two gave defenses fits last season.
Lattimore and Jeffery will remain the focus of the offense this season. Last year as a freshman, Lattimore notched the third-best single-season rushing total in Carolina history when he rushed for 1,197 yards and 17 touchdowns. Jeffery set single-season school records in both receptions (88) and receiving yards (1,517) while leading the SEC in receiving yards per game (108.4).
Both superstars should have more depth complementing them than a season ago. Junior running backs Kenny Miles and Eric Baker both had big springs and will be joined by highly-touted recruit Shon Carson in the backfield as the trio will be asked to take some pressure off of Lattimore.
The biggest loss on offense could prove to be Patrick DiMarco who served as both a fullback and tight end and was quietly one of the Gamecocks’ best players. Justice Cunningham will replace DiMarco at tight end this season.
Defensively, Carolina loses a leader in defensive end Cliff Matthews but adds the nation’s top-ranked prospect in the 2011 class in defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. Clowney will receive much of the fan attention but Devin Taylor, Travian Robertson, and Melvin Ingram will all return from a defensive line that finished fifth in the county a season ago with 41 sacks.
This year, not only will South Carolina be the favorite to win the East, but they will be among the SEC’s elite.
Bank on that.
While it remains to be seen how good they can be, it is clear that this isn’t your average Gamecocks team that we remember. This is a new team, with a great recruiting class, a bit of swagger, which is something the Gamecocks have not had in a while. This years Gamecocks team will look to improve on a 9-5 record.
Let’s look at the Gamecocks 2011 schedule. It sets up so favorably. The toughest matchups are at Georgia and Mississippi State, with Auburn and Florida coming to Columbia.
I see an 8-4 regular season record would be worst-case scenario. Even though people still don’t want to admit it, this team, on paper is one of the most talented in the conference. As I said before, as long as the quarterback play is solid, they could be in the hunt for the SEC title again, and we all know what potentially comes with that……..a possible chance at a national title.
It is all there, with the coaching and talent, it is more than a pipe dream. South Carolina has improved in every area, didn’t lose a great deal of major talent and had another solid recruiting class.
I believe the Cocks and the Ole’ Ball Coach go 9-3 in the regular season and are in the hunt for an SEC title shot.