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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

The Countdown

No. 31: South Carolina

Yes, that's The Nature Boy on the right. Oh, and U.S.C. head coach Spurrier on the left.

What say you, South Carolina? What’s it going to be? Before answering that question, let’s take a step back for a moment. The year is 2005. Lou Holtz has been replaced by Steve Spurrier. Yes, that Steve Spurrier. What if I had told you in 2005 that through five years, Spurrier would have won more than seven games only once but never suffered a losing season. Would you have been satisfied with that? Now that this scenario has come to pass, are you disappointed? Let me remind you — as if you needed any reminder: the last time your Gamecocks went at least five years without a losing season was — let me check my calendar — oh, 1928-34.

Conference
SEC, East

Location
Columbia, S.C.

Nickname
Gamecocks

Returning starters
15 (8 offense, 7 defense)

Last year’s ranking
No. 37

2009 record
(7-6, 3-5)

Last year’s
re-ranking

No. 47

2010 schedule

  • Sept. 2
    Southern Miss
  • Sept. 11
    Georgia
  • Sept. 18
    Furman
  • Sept. 25
    at Auburn
  • Oct. 9
    Alabama
  • Oct. 16
    at Kentucky
  • Oct. 16
    at Vanderbilt
  • Oct. 30
    Tennessee
  • Nov. 6
    Arkansas
  • Nov. 13
    at Florida
  • Nov. 20
    Troy
  • Nov. 27
    at Clemson

Last year’s prediction

Though not confident that this season will be that breakout year everyone has predicted out of South Carolina since Spurrier arrived in 2005 – double-digit wins, an SEC East title – I do believe it will have no trouble matching last season’s win total. The only major impediment is the schedule, which, as stated, ranks among the most difficult in the F.B.S. The defense is more than up to the task, but the offense, again will be this team’s weakness. Not that I think South Carolina will fall off the map – I predict it to finish with seven wins and third in the SEC East – but it may be another year before this offense comes together. The unit is young enough to expect some growing pains.

2009 recap

In a nutshell Stop me if you’ve heard this before: 5-1 through Oct. 10, 6-2 through Oct. 24, the Gamecocks folded down the stretch. Disappointing, frustrating, illogical. Again, stop me if this sounds familiar: U.S.C. was strong defensively, often inept offensively. In 2008, the Gamecocks scored 270 points; last fall, 268 points. In 2008, the Gamecocks allowed 274 points; last fall, 265 points. When will this offense get off the ground? The pieces were believed to be in place a year ago, with a starting quarterback entering his second season in the starting lineup, an offensive line led by a well-regarded position coach and several talented additions poised to make an impact at the skill positions. It wasn’t meant to be, of course, with the hope that this year — finally — will see U.S.C. put it all together.

High point For the first time since 2006, South Carolina beat Clemson. That win might have been the lone bright spot of the second half of the year, but what a bright spot it was: U.S.C. outgained Clemson by 128 yards, limited C.J. Spiller to 18 yards rushing and forced three turnovers. And to think, I couldn’t help but laugh when Clemson returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown. Here we go again, I thought.

Low point For the fourth consecutive season, a second-half collapse. The Gamecocks, 6-2 through Oct. 24, went 1-4 over their last five games. Included in this stretch was the inevitable loss to Florida, but U.S.C. also dropped games at Tennessee and Arkansas and put forth a horrific effort in a Papajohns.com Bowl loss to Connecticut.

Tidbit South Carolina will need to finish at least 8-5 in order to lift its career mark above .500. The program enters the 2010 season holding a record of 534-536-44; 7-6 just won’t cut it, in more ways than one.

Tidbit (finishing strong) On a grand scale, Spurrier’s South Carolina teams have been relatively notorious for fading down the stretch. Last season, as noted, aw the Gamecocks start 5-1 before settling with a 7-6 finish. In 2008, U.S.C. won five of their first seven games before losing four of their last six; in 2007, a 6-1 start disintegrated in an 0-5 finish. On a smaller scale, South Carolina has shown an inability on an individual game basis to rebound from early pressure: since Spurrier was hired, the Gamecocks are 4-19 when trailing at the end of the first quarter.

Former players in the N.F.L.

26 DE John Abraham (Atlanta), CB Fred Bennett (Houston), LB Jasper Brinkley (Minnesota), CB Sheldon Brown (Cleveland), TE Jared Cook (Tennessee), S Emanuel Cook (Tampa Bay), DE Clifton Geathers (Cleveland), OT Na’Shan Goddard (New Orleans), OG Lemuel Jeanpierre (Kansas City), CB Johnathan Joseph (Cincinnati), LB Lane Laury (New York Jets), WR Kenny McKinley (Denver), OT Jamon Meredith (Buffalo), CB Captain Munnerlyn (Carolina), LB Eric Norwood (Carolina), WR Sidney Rice (Minnesota), S Ko Simpson (Detroit), DT Shaun Smith (Kansas City), S Darian Stewart (St. Louis), K Ryan Succop (Kansas City), OG Travelle Wharton (Carolina), WR Troy Williamson (Jacksonville), LB Rod Wilson (Tampa Bay), CB Stoney Woodson (Tampa Bay).

Arbitrary top five list

Best players in badminton history
1. Eddy Choong.
2. David Freeman.
3. Judy Devlin-Hashman.
4. George Alan Thomas.
5. Park Joo-bong

Coaching

Steve Spurrier (Florida ‘67), 35-28 with the Gamecocks since taking over in 2005. He has a career record of 177-68-2, making him one of five active F.B.S. coaches to have a career mark 100 games over .500. Though some may have been expecting more out of Spurrier’s start, his 28 wins over the past four seasons ties the 1987-90 Gamecocks for the best four-year period in school history. Spurrier was named the 2005 SEC coach of the year after leading South Carolina to a 7-5 mark. But, as all college football fans know, Spurrier’s legend was made down in Gainesville, where he concluded his 12-year career at his alma mater of Florida with a 122-27-1 record (an .817 winning percentage, third best in SEC history), including the 1996 national title. His list of accomplishments with the Gators are too lengthy to mention, but here are the greatest hits: 12 consecutive nine-win seasons (only coach in SEC history to do so), 12 straight top-15 finishes, four straight SEC championships (joining only Bear Bryant) and 10 January bowl appearances. Spurrier reached 100 victories quicker than any coach in major college history, doing so in the eighth game of his 10th season. In addition to his time at Florida, Spurrier also spent three years (1987-89) as the coach at Duke, going 20-13-1, and spent two unremarkable years (12-20 mark from 2002-3) in the N.F.L. as the coach of the Redskins. The trip to the professional ranks was a mistake; college is where Spurrier belongs. Any list of the top 10 coaches in college football history should have his name on it.

Players to watch

We’re still waiting for Stephen Garcia, U.S.C.’s talented fourth-year junior quarterback. What are we waiting for, exactly? The next Danny Wuerffel? Not going to happen. What should we be expecting? A solid talent, an all-conference caliber dual-threat quarterback — not the worst quarterback in SEC history, to be sure — albeit one whose decisions will occasionally puzzle and mystify his teammates, coaches and fan base. In good news, Garcia took a step forward last fall in his decision making, opting to tuck it and run or throw the ball away instead of forcing the ball into tight spots. He wasn’t perfect: he completed 50 percent or less of his passes four times a year ago. Yet he was improved — and as his numbers indicate, South Carolina is in far better shape when he limits his turnovers. Garcia doesn’t get a lot of love, but he’s the closest to a sure thing at quarterback in the SEC East.

I love South Carolina’s young and gifted receiver corps, which will be led by sophomores Alshon Jeffrey and Tori Gurley. Jeffrey’s freshman campaign saw him live up to his immense billing, at least once he began to grasp the offense: 41 of his 46 receptions came over U.S.C.’s final eight games, with Jeffrey posting at least 4 receptions for 54 yards in each of the final seven games of the regular season. What about Gurley? His season went in the reverse, with a solid start — a very impressive start — evaporating in a quiet second half. Both players need to put together complete sophomore seasons, something both are very capable of doing. Players like D.L. Moore, Jason Barnes (26 receptions for 287 yards last fall), Dion LeCorn and Stephen Flint will help round out the receiver corps, with the much-maligned Weslye Saunders potentially — depending on the N.C.A.A. ruling — returning at tight end.

What type of impact will Marcus Lattimore have? Make no mistake: he’ll land every opportunity to play an enormous role with this offense, a role befitting one of the nation’s top-rated recruits. Standing in his way are a handful of experienced backs, each of whom rushed for at least 277 yards a season ago. The first is sophomore Kenny Miles, who lead the team in rushing (626 yards). Another sophomore, Jarvis Giles, has game-breaking ability. He showed some of this ability last fall, but received fewer opportunities than Miles and senior Brian Maddox (307 yards, 6 touchdowns), the latter the group’s tough yardage option. What’s one thing Lattimore has, by all accounts, that his future backfield mates don’t? Every-down ability: Miles is best suited as a scat back, much like Giles, while Maddox is a short-yardage guy. It will be interesting to see what kind of role the incoming freshman lands in 2010.

How will U.S.C. replace Eric Norwood? It won’t be easy, both in terms of production and leadership. His departure does provide an opportunity for senior end Cliff Matthews, who spent each of the last two seasons largely playing in Norwood’s shadow. Like Norwood, Matthews brings linebacker-type acceleration in a defensive end’s body; like Norwood, he also brings a fine motor — a solid combination. A second-team all-conference pick last fall, when he made 47 tackles and 7 sacks, even more is expected from Matthews in 2010. He’s one of two returning starters up front, joining fellow senior Ladi Ajiboye. Two starters must be replaced, however, and depth is a slight concern. Sophomore end Devin Taylor and junior tackle Travian Robertson are the favorites to replace Clifton Geathers and Nathan Pepper, respectively. If this group remains healthy, and a few young players step up — such as Taylor, or Kenny Davis, and so on — depth won’t be an issue. In fact, the line should remain pretty strong.

Junior Shaq Wilson moves from middle linebacker to the weak side, as U.S.C. attempts to replace Norwood’s lost production. As good as Wilson is, asking him to do what Norwood did so well — play the run, the pass, get to the quarterback — is illogical. Instead, U.S.C. should focus on what Wilson does well: tackle. In fact, I think Wilson is a better fit on the outside than in the middle, where his short reach won’t be as much of a concern; Wilson won’t be forced to fight off as many blockers, making more plays in space. It also helps to return junior Rodney Paulk, who was stymied by injuries last fall but brings starting experience to the table. His health remains a concern, and will be until Paulk remains on the field for an entire season. Keep an eye on a pair of former JUCO teammates, Josh Dickerson and Tony Straughter. The latter, who stands behind Paulk on the depth chart, needs to be ready to go.

It’s hard not to love the U.S.C. secondary, which returns four starters and several of last season’s reserves. The team entered last season with cornerback a major concern, thanks to the loss of both 2008 starters. A year later, it’s an unquestioned strength. Sophomore Stephon Gilmore played very well as a true freshman — talk about being thrown to the wolves — with even greater things expected this season and next. To say Gilmore merely held his own would be an understatement: he surpassed nearly every expectation surrounding his arrival. There will be a slight position change in the secondary, as senior Chris Culliver moves down from free safety to cornerback, junior Akeem Auguste up from cornerback to safety. From all accounts, Culliver is a better fit in his new spot; all he did last fall was earn second-team all-SEC praise as a safety, which bodes well for his position change.

So it’s Auguste at free safety, where he’ll likely be spelled by another former cornerback, D.J. Swearinger. In no surprise, sophomore DeVonte Holloman will earn the nod at strong safety, replacing Darisn Stewart. One of two high-profile defensive back recruits in 2009 — joining Gilmore — Holloman finished his debut season with 30 tackles and an interception. The fifth U.S.C. defensive back — the spur position — is currently held by junior Antonio Allen, who made eight starts at the position in 2009. Keep an eye on Damrio Jeffery, however, as the sophomore’s strong rookie campaign put him in the mix for extensive action in his second season.

Position battles to watch

Offensive line Another South Carolina rite of passage, along with late-season collapses, is the annual hiring of a new offensive line coach. This year’s addition, former Appalachian State coach Shawn Elliot, will attempt to round into form a long-underachieving group. What does he have to work with? Three seniors with starting experience, which will help. The first is left tackle Jarriel King, a former JUCO addition — and defensive lineman — who has taken solidly to his spot on the blind side. The line will also welcome back right guard Terrence Campbell, who missed most of last season after spending 2008 in a starting role. The third senior starter will be — most likely — left guard Garrett Chisolm, though the former walk-on will have a fight on his hands throughout fall camp to maintain his slim grasp on the starting role. A fourth upperclassman, Hutch Erickson, is battling junior Kyle Nunn at right tackle, with Nunn heading into August atop the depth chart. Both are experienced: Nunn made seven starts last fall, Erickson 15 over the past two years. South Carolina plans to replace center Lemuel Jeanpierre with sophomore T.J. Johnson, a freshman starter at right guard. There’s no question that Johnson has the most upside of any returning U.S.C. lineman, though one should keep an eye on the handful of line prospects added in U.S.C.’s recent recruiting cycle. The Gamecocks spent more than a quarter of their class on offensive linemen, with most likely to redshirt, but some — most likely A.J. Cann — bound to break into the mix at some point this season.

Game(s) to watch

In SEC play, games against Georgia and Florida will decide the SEC East. The Gamecocks land the Bulldogs at home, which helps, but head to the Swamp in mid-November. U.S.C. also lands the defending national champs at home, with the Crimson Tide sandwiching a trip to Columbia with home games against Florida and Ole Miss. Not saying that Alabama needs to be put on upset alert, but it bears watching. In terms of non-conference play, there’s Clemson, then there’s everybody else.

Season breakdown & prediction

In a nutshell This is Spurrier’s best U.S.C. team yet. The quarterback situation seems to be resolved, with Garcia a year wiser and the coaching staff high on Shaw’s athletic ability. Lattimore could provide the burst the Gamecocks so desperately need on the ground, though the running game will go only as far as the U.S.C. offensive line can take it. There are play makers at wide receiver; all-conference talent along the defensive line; experience at linebacker; and a secondary that should again rank among the top third in the SEC. This is Spurrier’s best team, yet the Gamecocks will find it very difficult to avoid four losses. It’s not their fault; blame the schedule. U.S.C. will beat Southern Mississippi, Furman, Vanderbilt and Troy; and should beat Kentucky on the road and Tennessee at home. So, at the very worst, U.S.C. is locked into another six-win — maybe seven — season. Again, as I attempted to point out in the opening, there should be nothing wrong with winning seven games a year, even with a Hall of Fame coach leading the way. Where South Carolina’s season will be decided is in the toss-up games: Alabama is a clear loss, but the remaining five games could go either way. To be honest, I can’t see the Gamecocks taking more than two of these five: home for Georgia and Arkansas; at Auburn, Florida and Clemson. If all goes right in the six winnable games — those listed above — taking two of five in the toss-up games will yield an 8-4 finish. I think that’s in line with expectations heading into 2010. Still, don’t for a second doubt this team’s ability to break out in a big way: with one break here, another there, U.S.C. can leapfrog past Florida and Georgia to take the SEC East and play for a B.C.S. berth. Yes, that could happen — but I don’t think it will.

Dream season South Carolina beats Georgia and Florida en route to a 10-2 finish, 6-2 in SEC play. That lands the Gamecocks the program’s first conference title of any kind since winning the A.C.C. in 1969.

Nightmare season All is peachy through October: U.S.C. is 6-2, with losses only to Auburn and Alabama. November, however, sees the Gamecocks go 0-4, culminating in a loss to rival Clemson.

In case you were wondering

Where do South Carolina fans congregate? Pre-Snap Read’s own Josh Penrod himself has a membership to Gamecock Central, where he can often be found checking up on recruiting news. Another option is Gamecock Anthem, though I’m unsure if Josh also belongs to this site, with Cocky Talk the best independent U.S.C. site. For a blog’s take, check out Garnett And Black Attack.

Up Next

Who is No. 30? Our next team’s head coach holds the school record for victories through two seasons with the program, though he has coached part of a third.

You can also follow Paul Myerberg and Pre-Snap Read on Twitter.

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Comments

  1. wildcat6 says:

    Jim Narby, your time has come.

    I believe, based on the hint, that Nebraska is #30. Otherwise Paul wouldn’t be trying so hard to come up with just the right hint.

  2. Mike E says:

    Devany also won 19 games in his first 2 seasons at Nebraska, I’d guess Huston

  3. DivePlay says:

    Here are teams that haven’t been previewed with coaches that have been in place for two years:

    Clemson (not quite 2 full years)
    Georgia Tech
    Nebraska
    West Virginia
    Houston
    Arkansas

    My guess is WVU.

  4. 'Catatonic Tim says:

    Navy next?

  5. DivePlay says:

    Crap, I missed Navy. That’s what you get when you rely on Wikipedia (which is wrong about the tenure of the Navy coach). Naval Academy could definitely be #30.

  6. BFahey says:

    wildcat6, don’t encourage Mr. Narby. Though Paul I think you should hold a contest for which the winner gets to watch a Husker game with Jim this season. See what he thinks.

    Frank Solich would hold this record for the Cornhuskers with 21 wins in two seasons.

    I think wikipedia is off because Niumatalolo coached them in the ’07 Poinsetta Bowl did he not?

  7. Zaboo says:

    Navy sounds right. Niumatalolo has 18 wins in the past two years, which could tie with Paul Johnson for program-best. He also coached the bowl game when Johnson left for GT, thus has coached “part of a third [year].”

  8. GTwill says:

    This is true for Paul Johnson. Please say someone besides Tech is up next though

  9. GTwill says:

    I missed the part of a third bit, which would not apply to CPJ.

  10. DivePlay says:

    Bill Callahan at WVU also coached (and won) the bowl game in 2007. Looks like it is WVU or Navy.

  11. Zahm08 says:

    You mean Stewart, not Callahan. Bill Callahan was Nebraska’s disaster.

  12. Jay says:

    Paul Johnson won only ten games in his first two years at Navy.

  13. Dontel says:

    Spot on report on my Gamecocks. To add another site to your “In Case You Were Wondering” section, we also gather at TheBigSpur.com It’s THE best site for ALL Gamecock coverage.

  14. Zaboo says:

    Yes, but CPJ won 18 over a 2-year stretch, which would tie the past 2 years under Niumatalolo (which is presumably a record).

  15. Mark Richens says:

    Was it Gurley or Jeffrey who went through what seemed like a 3- or 4-game stretch of having receiving touchdowns brought back for penalties?

  16. [...] Pre-Snap Read breaks down South Carolina: This is Spurrier's best U.S.C. team yet. The quarterback situation seems to be resolved, with Garcia a year wiser and the coaching staff high on Shaw's athletic ability. Lattimore could provide the burst the Gamecocks so desperately need on the ground, though the running game will go only as far as the U.S.C. offensive line can take it. There are play makers at wide receiver; all-conference talent along the defensive line; experience at linebacker; and a secondary that should again rank among the top third in the SEC. This is Spurrier's best team, yet the Gamecocks will find it very difficult to avoid four losses. [...]

  17. [...] country heading into the season opener. Today’s team, No. 31, is South Carolina. You can find a larger South Carolina preview at Pre-Snap [...]

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