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2010 NCAA Preview: South Carolina Gamecocks

South Carolina Gamecocks In A Nutshell

It’s not entirely fair, but SC is held to a high standard because of their HC. Steve Spurrier is a coaching legend that built Florida into the national power they are today. It wasn’t exactly an overnight success, but Spurrier was at the head so when South Carolina lured him back to the SEC, I think to a certain degree people thought Spurrier would just change home stadiums while keeping the ridiculous amounts of winning going. It didn’t work out that way. Spurrier in his first 5-years at SC has averaged a 7-6 record. The 2009 season didn’t do much to deter that way of thinking. After starting off 5-1, SC lost 4 of their last 5 SEC games. They finished 7-5 with a win over Clemson, but lost to UConn in finish 7-6 for the 2nd straight yer. Same misperception about Spurrier right heading into ’10 right? WRONG! This should be Spurrier’s best team & I think they’ll play like it.

Offensively it’s going to come down to the play of QB Stephen Garcia. Garcia has dealt with immaturity problems while at SC, but there is no denying the guy’s incredible talent. South Carolina is absolutely stacked at the skill positions. They have their top-3 rushers back, but all of them will be backing up the best RB in the class of 2010: Marcus Lattimore. Lattimore immediately will contend for All-SEC honors along with WR Alshon Jeffery. SC brings a ridiculous amount of talent & size at the receiver position. Jeffery (6’4/237lbs), Tori Gurley (6’5/230lbs), Jason Barnes (6’4/206lbs), & DL Moore (6’4/200lbs) give SC an incredible stable of receivers that should be a matchup nightmare for ANY team in college football. They could also benefit from TE Weslye Saunders (6’6/273lbs) but Sanders has been suspended indefinitely for violations of team rules. Justice Cunningham 6’3/261lbs) has the talent to replace him & his production. The offensive line has 4 starters returning which makes it very experienced. There will be some positions switches in the interior, but this definitely has the potential to be Spurrier’s best O-line since coming to South Carolina. All in all, the offense should be stellar. Despite averaging about 20ppg the last season, all signs point to South Carolina actually looking like Florida from Spurrier’s days as a HC in Gainesville.

Defensively, DC Ellis Johnson is doing an incredible job. South Carolina’s pass defense has been exceptional the 3 years Johnson has led the group and that shouldn’t change much this year either. SC returns their CB tandem of Chris Culliver & Stephon Gilmore. Although Culliver played mostly FS last season, he should be one of the best CBs not only in the SEC but also in the country! FS Akeem Auguste was the corner last year but moves to FS this season. It’s a terrific pass defense that is experienced & talented. SC has to take a step back at LB because they lose 1st Team All-American Eric Norwood, but the loss might seem bigger than it is. Replacing him will be Rodney Paulk who was a 2-year starter in 06-07 before injuries have derailed his last 2 yeras. WLB Shaq Wilson also returns and led the team in tackles a year ago. The defensive line got a bit boost when it’s best player, Cliff Matthews, spurned the NFL and came back to Columbia for his senior season. He’ll be joined by Ladi Ajiboye at DT which is very good. SC’s D-Line has a chance to be special though if new DT Travian Robertson & DE Devin Taylor are the real deals. Despite not having great offenses, Spurrier has usually had solid defensive units since coming to South Carolina. This year is no different, but could this be the best defense Spurrier has ever had?

The schedule is a brutal one, but I think if South Carolina can gain some momentum, it’ll be fine. They have a solid OOC schedule with Southern Mississippi, Troy, Furman & Clemson. Only the Clemson game is on the road. They managed to get Georgia at home, but will travel to Florida & Auburn. The SEC West draw was about as bad as it could get as the Gamecocks drew Auburn (road), Arkansas (home) & Alabama (home). The SC schedule, while difficult, could prove to be manageable with a little confidence. SC gets 3 home games to star the season before playing at Auburn. After the Auburn game they have a bye week and then welcome Alabama into Columbia. After the Alabama game, SC gets 3 fairly easy games against Vanderbilt, Tennessee & Kentucky. After those 3 games, SC hosts Arkansas and then travels to Gainesville. After Florida they get Troy at home and then finish with South Carolina. I think the key in all of this is SC starting off exceptionally well. If they can beat Georgia at home, they’ll have confidence playing Auburn in Auburn. If they manage to get to 4-0 then at least their confidence will be skyrocketing when they host Alabama the next day. If they manage to beat Georgia & take care of business at home, SC should be 9-0 when they travel to Gainesville. Even if they are 8-1 then they’ll have plenty of confidence to potentially beat Florida for the SEC East championship game. It’s certainly not a great schedule to dominate, but SC can possibly navigate it.

BOTTOM LINE: Best case for South Carolina is 12-0. There is a recurrent theme in this preview with respect to the “Best that Spurrier has ever had!” That includes the QB, the skill positions, the O-Line, the D-Line, the pass defense & the secondary. You put that together & you have an incredible football team. The 12-0 record is dependant upon a couple of things. The first is that Garcia has to play up to his potential. There is no denying his physical gifts, but if Garcia has finally matured then he’s got an incredible ceiling. The 2nd thing is their opening games. They’ve got to beat Georgia early on in Week #2. If SC can beat UGA at home and then beat Auburn on the road before the bye week then SC should be riding very high with confidence before getting an extra week to prepare for Alabama. They beat Alabama then they are 9-0 when they head to Gainesville. It’s tricky though. They have to beat Georgia for a shot at Auburn. They have to beat Auburn to have a chance against Alabama. They need to beat Alabama to have a chance on the road against Florida. They wind up 11-0 then it’s on against Clemson, but the SEC will be already decided. Those first 6 weeks will tell us a lot. The worst case unfortunately is 5-7. Carolina could easily lose to Alabama, Auburn, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Clemson and possibly even Southern Mississippi. I don’t think it’s likely but consider it a possibility. Splitting the difference would give SC between 8-9 wins. Frankly I’d take the over. South Carolina has a real shot at 10-3/11-2 this season. It won’t necessarily be a huge letdown if SC ends the season at 9-4/8-5, but Spurrier can’t make a move with an SC football team this talented with the SEC East in a state of flux, then when can he? There is certainly no pressure on Spurrier as HC, but if he can’t win double digit games with a roster this talented, then at the end of the day, SC will have to live with 8-9 wins a season unless they are transitioning which could make it even worse. Here’s hoping the ol’ ball coach has another championship season of some kind left in the tank.

Head Coach: Steve Spurrier: 35-28 at South Carolina, 6th season as HC
Last Season: 7-6 (T4 in SEC East)
Bowl Game: Lost to Connecticut 7-20 in Bowl
Last 3 Seasons: 20-18
Last 5 Seasons: 35-28
Last 10 Seasons: 68-54
Last 5 Bowl Games: 2-3
AP/BCS National Championships: 0
Experience Level for 2010: 2nd most experienced team in SEC (#14 in NCAA)
Turnover Margin: -4
NFL Draft Choices: 1 (LB Eric Norwood-4th Rd)

This section coming soon.


Returns: 93.5% of rushing yards, 98.7% of passing yards, 81.8% of receiving yards
PPG: 20.6 (11th in SEC)
Rushing Offense: 121ypg (12th in SEC)
Passing Offense: 226ypg (3rd in SEC)
Total Offense: 347ypg (9th in SEC)

Starters Lost

WR Moe Brown: 33rec, 491yards, 3TD
OC Lemuel Jeanpierre: 10 starts
OC/LG Garrett Anderson: 7 starts

Returning Starters

QB Stephen Garcia/JR: 55.3%, 2,862yards, 17TD, 10INT, 186yards, 4TD, 1.5ypc
RB Kenny Miles/SO: 626yards, 1TD, 5.4ypc, 21rec, 137yards
FB Patrick DiMarco/SR: 31yards, 3.1ypc
WR Alshon Jeffery/SO: 46rec, 763yards, 6TD
TE Weslye Saunders/SR: 32rec, 353yards, 3TD
RG TJ Johnson/SO: 13 starts
RT Hutch Eckerson/SR: 8 starts
LT Jarriel King/SR: 8 starts

The Gamecocks bring back junior Stephen Garcia as QB. Garcia was a supremely talented QB out of high school that was featured prominently in Bruce Feldman’s book Meat Market. It was thought of as a major coup for Spurrier and South Carolina because most thought that Garcia would be THE quarterback that Spurrier needed to finally run the offense we saw at Florida under the ole’ ball coach. Garcia wound up redshirting his freshman year. A year later Garcia dealt with suspension issues that forced him into a backup role. Last year was the first year we saw what Garcia was all about. He had a pretty decent season as a first year starter passing for 2,862 yards with 17TD & 10INT. He completed only 55.3% of his passes & he’ll need to improve on that number. Garcia has the potential to explode onto the scene. He’s got good size at 6’2/230lbs & a powerful arm. It’s interesting that Spurrier has never really had a spectacular QB at South Carolina. Garcia is in his 4th year at Columbia in Spurrier’s system. He’s got outstanding weapons to work with & an experienced O-Line up front. Garcia has dealt with immaturity issues in the past, but if he’s 110% in this year, he should have an outstanding season. There is no reason why Garcia couldn’t be the 2nd best QB in the SEC behind Arkansas’s Ryan Mallett. Garcia won’t come out after his junior year which means he’ll likely be 3rd or 4th in SC history in passing yards. His senior year should put him down as the most prolific passer in South Carolina history.

Carolina is stacked at the skill positions. The Gamecocks return their top-3 rushers from a year ago, but also welcome in the #1 RB in the Class of 2010, Marcus Lattimore. Lattimore is a 5’11/220lbs tank that might be NFL ready right now. As a true freshman he’s already the starting RB for South Carolina and could be fighting for 1st Team All-SEC honors immediately! Backing him up will be sophomore Kenny Miles who ran for 626 yards last season (5.4ypc) with 1TD. Senior Brian Maddox & sophomore Jarvis Giles is also in the mix so SC could not be in a better position at tailback. The receivers are also absurd. Returning is true sophomore Alshon Jeffery (6’4/237lbs) who was arguably the best WR in the 2009 Class! Jeffery was SC’s leading receiver as a true freshman last year catching 46 balls for 763 yards & 6TD. He’s a matchup nightmare not only because he’s 6’4 & fast, but also because he’s a physical freak at 240lbs! Joining Jeffery is rSO Tori Gurley (6’5/230lbs) & junior Jason Barnes (6’4/210lbs). Sophomore DL Moore (6’4/200lbs) should factor heavily into the SC offense as well giving Carolina a quartet of outstanding receivers. The size of SC’s starting receivers is amazing and the 2-deep doesn’t go smaller than 6’2. TE Weslye Saunders was going to be a big piece of the puzzle. Potentially the best TE in the SEC, Saunders is a beast at 6’6/273lbs, but he’s been suspended indefinitely and his status is unknown. Justice Cunningham will likely now be the starter. At 6’3/261lbs, Cunningham isn’t quite as big as Saunders but has the potential to be an excellent pass catching tight end. All in all this is by far the most talented group of skill position athletes Spurrier has ever had at South Carolina. They should provide plenty of excitement this fall.

Spurrier has been plagued by inadequate offensive lines since coming to Columbia. He’s basically had a terrible O-Line every season he’s been HC at SC except for 2006, his best year at South Carolina. This year has the potential to give Spurrier his best O-Line since roaming the sidelines in Williams-Brice Stadium. It’s sort of a mix & match unit but it could work out. The Gamecocks have 4 returning starters which include RG TJ Johnson (6’5/305lbs), RT Hutch Eckerson (6’6/287lbs) & LT Jarriel King (6’5/310lbs). The 4th starter is LG Terrence Campbell (6’3/283lbs) who was a starter at RG in 2008 but was lost to injury in 2009. There is a lot of flipping here. Johnson moves to OC from RG to welcome in JUCO transfer Rokevious Watkins (6’4/320lbs) who takes over at RG. Campbell takes over at LG but has started at RG during his tenure at SC. Eckerson & King maintain their same positions, but for the most part OC, LG & RG have players playing new positions. It’s a big line averaging 6’5/305lbs, but not an overtly talented one. There is some experience here & some continuity despite the haphazard way the line is put together. It won’t matter too much though. As long as the line is adequate, SC has the playmakers to make the line look A LOT better than what it might be. Open up some holes for Lattimore & give Garcia a little time and it should be fine. SC was downright awful at pass protection last season so that is the one key to look for early on when determining if the Gamecocks really did improve along the front.

Overall this should easily be the best offense Spurrier has had at South Carolina. Over the last two seasons, South Carolina hasn’t averaged even 21ppg which should change dramatically this year. How much improvement remains to be seen, but there simply isn’t a weakness to the offense. The skill position players are ridiculous & it’s obvious Spurrier hasn’t lost his touch recruiting top level offensive talent from his days in Gainesville. The offensive line finally looks like an SEC caliber offensive line in size. There is also quite a bit of continuity & experience with 4 guys returning who have been full time starters. There will be some mix & match in the interior of the O-line, but nothing that would prevent this from being Spurrier best offensive line. The real key here in my opinion in the maturation of Stephen Garcia into the QB a lot of scouts & coaches thought he’d be when he left high school. He’s a rJR this season meaning it’s his 4th year under Spurrier & you’d think he’s poised for a breakout. Spurrier has given him a truckload of offensive weapons including RB Marcus Lattimore, WR Alshon Jeffery & possibly TE Weslye Saunders. This is without a doubt the best offense Spurrier has ever had while in Columbia & should put up over 30ppg.


Returns: 73.0% of tackles, 55.4% of sacks, 63.3% of tackles for loss, 78.7% of pbu, 66.7% of int
PPG: 20.4 (5th in SEC)
Rushing Defense: 138ypg (5th in SEC)
Passing Defense: 163ypg (2nd in SEC)
Total Defense: 301ypg (3rd in SEC)

Starters Lost

DE Clifton Geathers: 41tkl, 3.5sks, 5tfl, 1pbu
DT Nathan Pepper: 27tkl, 2sks, 1.5tfl, 1pbu
LB Eric Norwood: 81tkl, 7sks, 4.5tfl, 3pbu, 2int, 1st TEAM ALL-AMERICAN!
SS Darian Stewart: 58tkl, 7tfl, 5pbu

Returning Starters

DE Cliff Matthews/SR: 47tkl, 7sks, 3tfl, 3pbu, 2nd Team All-SEC
DT Ladi Ajiboye/SR: 45tkl, 4tfl
LB Shaq Wilson/JR: 85tkl, 3.5tfl, 2pbu, 1int
LB Antonio Allen/JR: 35tkl, 2pbu
CB Stephon Gilmore/SO: 56tkl, 3sks, 3tfl, 8pbu, 1int, Freshman All-American
CB Chris Culliver/SR: 62tkl, 2sks, 1tfl, 9pbu, 2nd Team All-SEC
FS Akeem Auguste/JR: 38tkl, 2tfl, 3pbu

South Carolina’s defensive line should be fine even with losing DE Clifton Geathers & DT Nathan Pepper. Geathers should have been the big time star last year on the edge, but DE Cliff Matthews turned out to be the big threat as a pass rusher earning 2nd Team All-SEC honors and returning for his senior season. Matthews will no doubt be a 1st Team All-SEC player this season and the only question remains is whether this extremely talent 6’4/260lbs beast can earn some All-America honors? Also returning is DT Ladi Ajiboye. At 6’2/280lbs, Ajiboye is a little small for a DT, but he can plug a hole as good as anyone & should be in the mix for all-SEC honors. What’s really interesting about SC’s defensive line might be the new starters! Replacing Geathers at DE will be rSO Devin Taylor. Taylor is a huge DE at 6’8/250lbs! He made 5 starts last season with 5.5tfl despite limited playing time. Replacing Pepper at DT is junior Travian Robertson who at 6’5/300lbs is more in line with a traditional sized 4-3 DT with the potential to bulk up to be a legit 3-4 NT! Spurrier hasn’t had much luck in keeping his D-Linemen healthy, but this season has the potential to give Spurrier his best D-Line yet! Notice the theme here? Matthews & Ajiboye are going to be outstanding, but if Taylor & Robertson come to play? That’s going to be exceptionally tough to handle. Don’t forget about freshman Kelcy Quarles. A 6’3/270lbs freshman DE, Quarles could definitely work his way into the lineup to wreak plenty of havoc in his own right!

The linebacking unit can’t help but regress a little bit. MLB Eric Norwood was easily one of my most favorite players in all of college football the last couple of seasons. I’d watch SC games specifically to watch Norwood play defense. DC Ellis Johnson runs more of a nickle package out of the conventional 4-3 using a “spur” defensive player that’s sort of another safety instead of a LB. If you count the LB corps including the “spur”, SC brings back 2 of the 3 starters. WLB Shaq Wilson actually led the team in tackles last year & returns. Antonio Allen also returns as the “spur”. Senior Rodney Paulk will take over for Norwood in the middle. It’s not as bad as it sounds. Paulk is a senior who started for two straight years before being out with injury the last two seasons. Oddly enough you could sort of say SC has 3 starters back for their LB unit. There are 41 starts between the 3 projected starters. Norwood was a ridiculous talent. He was a 4th round draft pick of the Carolina Panthers. At 6’1/260lbs he was outstanding in the middle, rushing the passer & defending the pass. It’s not easily replaceable, but SC isn’t as bad off as you think. The unit is deep & experienced.

SC had a ridiculous pass defense last year. Since Ellis Johnson became DC in 2007, the pass defense has shined. That was no different last year and SC brings back a truckload of experience from a dominating unit. Returning are both CBs Stephon Gilmore & Chris Culliver. They are easily the best CB duo in the SEC if not the entire country. Both should vie for 1st Team All-SEC honors with Culliver almost being a lock. They are both in the 6’1/190lbs range with excellent speed to go along with their outstanding size for the position. LSU’s Patrick Paterson might be the best corner in the SEC, but Culliver is up there. FS Akeem Auguste also returns. Last season Auguste was the starting CB & Culliver was the starting FS but those roles are reversed. Auguste moving to FS with CB speed should be a real boon for the Gamecocks. SS Darian Stewart was a solid starter who SC lost, but DeVonte Holloman will try to replace him. Holloman has ridiculous talent & size (6’3/226lbs) for a SS who got some starts in as a true freshman.

There isn’t a weakness to this defense. The D-Line has two quality players back in Matthews & Ajiboye. If the new starters (Taylor, Robertson & Quarles) can be merely average the Gamecocks will have a defensive line that will be thought of as outstanding the year’s end. The is no way you can think the LBs will not take a step back with the loss of Eric Norwood, but the situation is a lot better than you’d think. SC returns two starters in Shaq Wilson & Antonio Allen while new MLB Rodney Paulk is a senior who was a full time starter in 06-07 before being injured the last couple of seasons. Wilson could be an All-SEC type player. The secondary is bordering on the ridiculous. They were already an incredible defensive unit last season, but they bring everyone back including potentially the best CB tandem in the nation with Chris Culliver & Stephon Gilmore. SS DeVonte Holloman has the potential to LAY THE WOOD from the position. The defense gave up 20.4ppg a season ago. There is no way they give up that many points per game in ’10. This could easily wind up being the best defense Spurrier has ever had at South Carolina.


Southern Mississippi

The SC schedule isn’t exactly easy. Phil Steele thinks it is the 2nd most difficult schedule in all of football. He ranks SC as the #21 team in the country although he said that ranking would have been a lot higher had SC had an easier time of it with the schedule. As far as the non-conference slate goes, SC did a good job getting Troy, Southern Mississippi & Furman at home, but Troy might be the best team in the Sun Belt & Southern Mississippi might be the most talented in CUSA. They should all be wins for SC, but they won’t exactly be easy.

As far as the SEC slate is concerned, it’s brutal. SC plays in the SEC obviously so no conference schedule is going to be easy, but they drew Auburn, Alabama & Arkansas from the SEC West! That’s just N-A-S-T-Y! They also travel to Florida, but get Georgia, Arkansas & Alabama at home. If Arkansas wins at home, then the season comes down to 3 road games against Florida, Auburn & Clemson. The Clemson game will have no bearing on the SEC standings, but if SC does get to the SEC Championship game, I’m sure they’d much rather go in after beating Clemson then go in after having their butts handed to them by an in-state rival.

Although it’s a tough schedule, there are some positives. South Carolina gets a bye week before Alabama. They get 3 easy games before Arkansas & Florida. They also get a non-conference home date against Troy before heading to Clemson for the season finale. There isn’t much to say. You get lemons you need to make lemonade. The schedule is a beast, but SC has the players this season to make a significant run. More importantly? SC has the ability to beat any SEC team on the schedule! I’m not sure we’ve said that before about a Spurrier led South Carolina squad, but this has to be the year Spurrier thought of when getting back into the SEC after leaving Florida for the Washington Redskins. It’s taken until his 6th season, but the opportunity is there.


Best case for South Carolina is 12-0. I waffled a little bit on the Alabama game & I actually counted it as a guaranteed win for the Crimson Tide during my Alabama preview, but I’m changing my mind about that one. It’s in Columbia and SC has enough players to dream up the impossible. I’d expect Alabama to probably win, but SC definitely has the horses to get it done. The schedule sets up for a 12-0 season although it’ll be terribly difficult to obtain. The key here to a 12-0 run is starting the season out 4-0. If SC can get to 4-0 that would mean that they’ve beaten Georgia at home & Auburn on the road. They get a bye week before hosting Alabama at home the following week. They reach 5-0 and you could easily be talking SC as the run away SEC East champion.

Unfortunately worst case sees 5-7. South Carolina could easily lose to Auburn, Georgia, Alabama, Florida & Auburn in the SEC. The Florida & Auburn games are on the road for crying out loud. The other two potential losses come as the home opener against Southern Mississippi & the season finale in Clemson. SC’s guaranteed wins come against Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Furman, Tennessee & Troy. I don’t think those teams have realistic shots at beating South Carolina.

Splitting the difference you get 8-9 wins for South Carolina & I definitely think you take the over on that. If South Carolina simply takes care of business at home they win 9 games. It always seems like South Carolina has disappointed a bit, but maybe that is the perception of Spurrier led Florida teams being projected on South Carolina. What is definitely for certain is that this is Spurier’s best offense & defense he’s ever had. It’s his best offensive line, his best QB, his best set of skill position players, his best pass defense, his best secondary, & his best defensive line. That is a tremendous amount of “bests”. Spurrier’s high win mark at South Carolina is 8, but considering the talent he has on hand, I’d have to think a 9-4 to 11-2 season is entirely possible.

South Carolina definitely has the makings of an excellent team. If Garcia can play up to his potential, there simply aren’t a lot of losses on the schedule despite it’s exceptional strength.


August 31, 2010 - Posted by | Previews, South Carolina

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