South Carolina Gamecocks
A 6-0 start and then the Gamecocks dropped a pair against LSU and Florida. The Gamecocks responded by winning five to close out the season including the exciting victory over Michigan in the Outback Bowl to go 11-2.
The “Ol’ Ball Coach” is still going strong at 68 and turning in some fine years with South Carolina after a shaky start. South Carolina has some very special players and recruiting is not a problem. Spurrier has had some very good seasons in Columbia but he has yet to have “the season”.
For being an ex-quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner , Steve Spurrier has always had a certain amount of unrest at the quarterback spot over the years. Stephen Garcia was the most recent example of a highly prized recruit falling short of expectations but South Carolina has been finding a way to make it work. Connor Shaw is a senior this year but late last year when injuries got the better of him Dylan Thompson got his chance and he performed admirably. The Gamecocks lose a bit of mobility as Shaw is a better runner than Thompson but Thompson can find the seam and run when he needs too. I expect both to see a significant amount of time. It looks like Shaw will be ready for the opener but that is not a given and the first game against North Carolina is far from a “gimmie”. South Carolina will get right back to pounding the ball even after losing Marcus Lattimore to the NFL after a second devastating knee injury in college. With Mike Davis and Brandon Wilds the Gamecocks have a nice capable 1-2 punch but they do not have that 25-30 carry “put it on my back” workload or approach of a Marcus Lattimore. And while the breakaway speed and big play seems more evident than ever they may miss Lattimore around the goal line where he was one of the best in the nation at punching the ball in. South Carolina prides itself in being efficient with the football, controlling the clock and keeping their stellar defense fresh. I do not see a definitive prospect at these positions yet but that could chance with more seasoning from the backs.
Best Draft Prospect: N/A
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends:
Ace Sanders didn’t have huge numbers nor was he huge in stature but he was an integral part of the offense. Sanders did a great job drawing away coverage and defenders and opening up the middle of the field for the running game or the short passing game. Sanders could just flat out fly down the field and you had to respect his speed. Bruce Ellington didn’t have as many catches as Sanders last year but he had more yards and he will star with Damiere Byrd who had an astounding 26 YPC average on 14 catches. It looks like South Carolina will have plenty of targets it just remains to be seen how effective the offense will be without a true #1 target. When you look at the passing game and prospects for the NFL, tight end Rory Anderson
looks to be the most viable option and he has some NFL prospects ahead of him. Anderson had only 14 catches last season but 5 went for touchdowns and Anderson averaged nearly 20 yards per reception as he is a hard man to bring down in the open field. Anderson only weighs about 225 but he has a frame where he can add about 20-25 pounds and it shouldn’t have a huge impact on his speed. I expect the running backs to be a little more active in the passing game as this was not one of Marcus Lattimore’s strengths.
Draft Prospect: Rory Anderson TE 5th Round 2015.
The offensive line has been something of a sore spot for South Carolina and it’s followers over the course of the last five years or so. The line seems intently built to cater to the running game and struggles with pass protection, routinely ranking near the bottom of the SEC in terms of sacks given up. This is another reason why the mobility of a player like Connor Shaw may be seen as more favorable for this offense but one cannot argue with the success of Dylan Thompson and how he tends to turn the ball over less than Shaw. The Gamecocks have a couple of 5th round prospects for 2015 at guard and tackle in A.J. Cann and 6’8” Corey Robinson. While Cann and Robinson look to be the pro prospects it may be center Cody Waldrop that has the most important assignment along the line at center. Waldrop will be following three year starter T.J. Johnson and he has some huge shoes to fill. The right side of the line also has a pair of starters that return in Ronald Patrick and Brandon Shell. Both are very capable lineman but the line is not as mobile on the right side as the left and it is noticeable. Four of the positions along the line have freshman that are listed next on the depth chart so there is definitely a youth movement going on along the line at South Carolina.
Best Draft Prospect: A.J. Cann OG 5th Round 2015and Corey Robinson OT 5th Round 2015.
No secret that the strength of the defense for South Carolina is along the line since it is led by the greatest college football player on the planet in Jadeveon Clowney. Clowney posted 13 sacks and 23.5 tackles for loss last season as well as making “the hit” on Victor Smith during the Outback Bowl which also resulted in a fumble that Clowney recovered and led to a South Carolina touchdown on the next play. If you haven’t seen this play on ESPN during the last year at least 50 times then you aren’t watching enough football on television because it was and continues to be everywhere even winning an ESPY Award for Best Play. Clowney is clearly the best player in this draft and I feel he would have been the top pick in the last draft if he were eligible. As talented as Clowney is he needs other players along the line to divert a little attention away from him although he tends to beat double teams at will. This is why a player like tackle Kelcy Quarles is so important, Quarles does not have the all-around game as some of the top defensive tackles but his explosion off the snap is unparalleled. Quarles is a 3rd/4th round prospect for the 2015 draft although I feel he could follow Clowney into the draft if he has a monster season and raises his stock. Chaz Sutton is the new starter at defensive end opposite Clowney but he is a seasoned player who has plenty of experience. This should be one of the top lines in the SEC and should lead to this defense being ranked in the top 10 overall or close to it for the season (they were #11 last year).
Best Draft Prospect: Jadeveon Clowney DE 1st Round 2015 (Will be turning pro and likely to battle Teddy Bridgewater to be the top pick overall. Would have been the #1 pick overall in this last draft if he were draft eligible).
The weakness on defense is right here as the Gamecocks are starting new linebackers at all three positions for 2013. The key to the success of this trio will be the effectiveness of the line up front and how much pressure they are able to generate on the quarterback. For most teams the more pressure you get on a quarterback the better because your secondary does not have to engage with an opposing receiver nearly as long. Here the secondary is solid and the focus is shifting to the linebackers. Kaiwan Lewis and Cedrick Cooper seem to have played themselves into the starting lineup and earning starting spots. South Carolina is predicated on speed for offense and defense and the style is similar to that of a Florida defense where size is not always a factor or one that needs to be watched closely. Lewis is the heaviest linebacker and he is currently listed at 216 pounds so ensuring the linebackers do not get overpowered or wear down will be a legitimate concern.
Best Draft Prospect: N/A
South Carolina finished #21 in the nation against the pass a season ago and that is a number that we should see get closer to #1 this year. While the defensive line is the focus with Jadeveon Clowney and some other star studied players, the secondary is packed with solid prospects and this could potentially be an even better area of strength than the defensive line. Victor Hampton is a 2nd/3rd rounder that I feel has a good shot to go pro since Clowney will likely go pro and he saw the success Stephon Gilmore had this past season. Hampton does suffer through some bouts of inconsistency and will take some chances. As long as Hampton doesn’t bite too often on play action which he has in the past due to his aggressive nature, he will do just fine and have a terrific career. Jimmy Legree will be the other starting quarterback and he projects as a 6th/7th round prospect for this season. T.J. Gurley will be the free safety and is the only member of the secondary that is not a returning starter. Brison Williams will be the strong safety as he posted 52 tackles with an interception and 2 pass breakups a season ago. Williams is a fringe prospect for 2015 and he will have some help from junior Kadetrix Marcus who should be a primary backup at both positions. The secondary has a nice mixture of fantastic athletes and “safe” options who are just solid football players with sound fundamentals. The fact that South Carolina has such a heavy pass-rush will help the secondary out as they can gamble and make a few more plays knowing they have a solid backup behind them.
Best Draft Prospect: Victor Hampton CB 2nd/3rd Round 2015. (Possible early entry this season).
This is an area where South Carolina really struggled in 2012. Tyler Hull is the punter and South Carolina finished dead last in the SEC in net punting as the punt coverage let the team down too often. Landon Ard is the new kicker and South Carolina was just 11-17 on field goals a season ago as accuracy was a major question mark. Bruce Ellington and Victor Hampton will be the return men and Victor Hampton will have to try and replace Ace Sanders who brought two returns back for touchdown on punt returns in 2012. South Carolina needs to ensure they win the battle of field position and don’t give their defense short fields to work with.
Best Draft Prospect: Bruce Ellington WR/KR 7th Round 2015.
South Carolina will not have time to rest or build itself up for SEC competition as they start out at home against North Carolina and then a road game with Georgia. The game with Georgia could be one of the biggest games in the SEC with the winner of that game having a huge early advantage in the conference. October is nearly all on the road with road games against Arkansas, Tennessee and Missouri. November had 4 games on the schedule and all are at homer with big games against Florida and in-state rival Clemson. If South Carolina can win the road game against Georgia then they may be positioning themselves for the SEC title game and even some loftier national expectations.
We already know there will be a huge presence with Jadeveon Clowney looking to be a safe bet to be one of the top three taken in this draft with the #1 overall tag very likely. South Carolina lost a lot of firepower to the draft in 2012 but this team has plenty of talent to restock from. This team has been knocking on the door of being a major player for the National Championship and that is only going to further help the recruiting efforts of the Gamecocks.