Watch out for South Cackalacky
When the head ball coach called Connor Shaw's number last year he stepped up to the challenge, this season he has one of the most feared tailbacks lining up behind him in Marcus Lattimore.
Ryan Trapp | Staff Writer
9. South Carolina
2011 Record (SEC): 11-2 (6-2)
Returning Starter (Off/Def/ST): 14 (7/6/1)
The Old Ball Coach has a sure thing under center for the first time in several years. After Stephen Garcia’s tumultuous season on and off the field, Coach Spurrier handed the reins over to then-sophomore Connor Shaw who ran away with the starting gig. Taking over midway through last season, Shaw threw for over 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns in eight starts, but really came into his own at the season’s end when he connected for 657 yards and eight touchdowns over his final three games. Shaw’s an established threat on the ground as well, rushing for 525 yards and eight scores in his sophomore season. Although the sample size is small (8-1 in career starts), Shaw has a better winning percentage than any other South Carolina quarterback in the last 40 years, and tops the school’s all-time chart in completion percentage. What makes Shaw’s feat more admirable, is he managed to accomplish all this without 2010 SEC Freshman of the Year Marcus Lattimore lined up behind him. After rushing for over 800 yards and 10 touchdowns in just seven games last year, a torn knee ligament sidelined the star running back for the rest of 2011. The Heisman hopeful returns to the Gamecocks’ backfield this season where he’ll try and live up to the lofty expectations he’s carried with him since rated the number one running back in the 2010 recruiting class. Brandon Wilds, who performed well in Lattimore’s place last season, should shoulder some of the carries as well. Following the departure of Alshon Jeffery, junior Ace Sanders will fill in as the number one option at wide receiver. Their corps will also be bolstered by incoming freshman Jody Fuller and South Carolina’s 2011 Mr. Football, Shaq Roland.
As important as Lattimore’s performance is to South Carolina’s success on offense, sophomore Jadeveon Clowney might have an even bigger impact on the defense. Clowney returns after an awe-inspiring freshman campaign that saw him tally eight sacks, force five fumbles and earn SEC Freshman of the Year honors. He’ll line up at defensive end opposite the big 6’8" frame of Devin Taylor, but he could also see time as an outside pass rusher at linebacker as well. Kelcy Quarles received some freshman All-American recognition out of the tackle position last year, and should clog up the rushing lanes alongside senior Byron Jerideau. With five seniors returning the Gamecock’s sport a lot of experience at linebacker, but their secondary is what puts their defense in the class of elite. They ranked second in the nation in both passing yards per game and completions over 10 yards allowed, falling behind only national champ Alabama. Although former standout safety DeVonte Holloman has converted to spur linebacker, he has enough range and mobility to be a factor in pass coverage. Akeen Auguste should return to start at corner after missing nearly all of 2011 with a foot injury and senior free safety D.J. Swearinger gives the Gamecocks a talented and vocal leader in their last line of defense. Incoming freshman and four-star recruit Chaz Elder gives the safety position a lot of depth and could compete for some significant playing time. They have an extremely difficult schedule, but with a healthy Lattimore on offense and the already dangerous Clowney more experienced, this team has enough firepower to make a BCS title run.
ROAD TO THE BCS
South Carolina hasn’t posted back-to-back seasons with double-digit wins in program history. After a record 11 wins under Spurrier last season, this team has the talent to break that habit, but it won’t be easy. There’s a three game stretch in October that could leave a mark, hosting Georgia before playing at LSU and Florida. Tyler Wilson and the Razorbacks come to Columbia the second week in November and they close the season with their annual bout against the Tigers at Clemson.
BURNING QUESTION: Can Lattimore be the player he was before he was injured?
If Lattimore’s knee is as healthy as reports out of South Carolina indicate, the Gamecocks go from BCS hopefuls to legitimate title contenders. He broke into the league with a bang rushing for 182 yards and two scores against a brutal Georgia defense in just his second collegiate game. The start to his sophomore campaign was more of the same, setting a school record with 246 yards rushing and three scores in a close win over Navy week three. Up until his ligament tear against Mississippi State, the Heisman hopeful to reach the century mark in all-purpose yards in five of his six games. A brutal combination of size and speed, he’s probably the most complete runner in college football. If he can fully return to form, he and the Gamecocks could be raking in some serious hardware come January.
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