2014 South Carolina Gamecocks Preview

By Matt Barber(Listen to Matt on AM 560 in Columbia, SC Monday-Friday 1-3 EST www.560theteam.com)

Head Coach: Steve Spurrier( 77-39 at South Carolina & 219-72-2 overall)

Offensive Coordinator: Shawn Elliot/Steve Spurrier Jr.

Defensive Coordinator: Lorenzo Ward

Returning Starters Offense: 7 

Returning Starters Defense: 6

Date2013 Opponents 11-2 6-2USCOpponents
8/29North Carolina2710
9/7at Georgia3041
9/28 at UCF2825
10/12at Arkansas527
10/19at Tennessee2123
10/26at Missouri(OT)2724
11/2Mississippi State3416
11/23Coastal Carolina7010
1/1Wisconsin(Cap One Bowl)3424
Date 2014 Opps & Predictions 10-2 6-2USCOpponents
8/28Texas A&M3828
9/6East Carolina4517
9/20at Vanderbilt3120
10/4at Kentucky2414
10/25at Auburn2838
11/15at Florida2417
11/22South Alabama5210
11/29at Clemson2824

Offense- South Carolina has been led the last 3 years by the highly underrated Connor Shaw at QB.  Shaw became the school's all time leading rusher as a QB breaking Jeff Grantz's school record and also won more game than any other Gamecock QB.   He was also someone who rarely made a mistake and seemed to always be able to scramble for a first down for a key 3rd down conversion.   His leadership, along with WR Bruce Ellington's will be missed, but talent is still scattered all over for Spurrier's squad.

At QB is senior Dylan Thompson.  Thompson wasn't highly recruited coming out of Boiling Springs High School in upstate SC, but he has worked hard and put himself in position to be the starter coming into 2014.  He does have plenty of in game experience in big atmosphere in such places like at Clemson, at Central Florida, at the 2013 Outback Bowl,  and at Missouri.   What he doesn't have is experience as the number 1 QB heading into a season.  

In my opinion Connor Mitch is the most talented QB on the Gamecocks team, but as a redshirt freshmen has no in game experience.  Mitch is highly accurate and does have the ability to run(though not as quick as Shaw was).  Brendan Nosovitch didn't have the best of Springs and has likely fallen to number 3 on the depth chart, though could easily become #2 if Mitch struggles.  

The backfield for South Carolina is probably the deepest the Gamecocks have had since the days of Watson, Pinnock, and Ryan Brewer in the early days of the Lou Holtz Era.  Mike Davis proved to be a star with last year with 1,183 yards rushing despite playing much of the end of the year hurt.  Davis isn't as powerful as Marcus Lattimore was, but does have better break away speed.  Brandon Wilds has a couple 100+ yard games under his belt and if healthy is a very good power back for USC.   Shon Carson is a good back in open space, but can't seem to stay healthy.  I don't think it would shock anyone if RS Freshman David Williams isn't playing ahead of Carson in 2014.   

While I don't see a superstar like Alshon Jeffery or Sidney Rice on this receiver unit, I do think this is the deepest group of WRs Steve Spurrier has had at Carolina.  Shaq Roland showed flashes of greatness last year, but has yet to put together a full season of quality play entering his junior year.  Damiere Byrd is one of the fastest players in the SEC and Nick Jones is a reliable senior WR . 

Pharoh Cooper maybe the most special playmaker the Gamecocks have on offense.  The WR can catch passes, run out of the Wildcat, and even throw the football well.   Cooper also is a good return specialist.  

What Cooper can do is similar to what you may see out of a prospect I think that may shock some this year, Tyshun(Debo) Samuel.  Samuel spent last year playing for Chapman High School in upstate South Carolina.  Chapman has never been a power, but Debo took Chapman on his shoulders and took the Panthers to their highest finish as a AAA school.  I had a chance to call play by play for one of Debo's game and in my opinion he's one of the 6-7 best athletes I've seen in person over the last 10 years as a HS Football announcer in this state.    Shaq Davidson is another true freshman that gives the Gamecocks a deep group of WRs.

The offensive line at Carolina is one of the best in the country.  Senior A.J. Cann is an All American Candidate at LG.  Corey Robinson is a mammoth LT that needs to work on his pass blocking, but is a good run blocker.  Brandon Shell(great uncle is Art Shell) at RT will be playing on Sundays.  Cody Waldrop is a very good sophomore center and Clayton Stednik has valuable playing time behind him.  When the Gamecocks go to a power look they will send in 6'9 Mason Zandi(tallest Gamecock ever) at Tight End as an extra tackle.  Zandi has only played 3 years of organized football on the offensive line, but continues to improve each year.

The tight ends have plenty of talent too.  Rory Anderson is a big target in the redzone and Jerrell Adams has faster than normal speed at TE.   I'd expect to see these players get more balls thrown their way in 2014 than in previous years as Thompson will check down his 1-2 receiver options and look more to the TEs, where as Connor Shaw would've scrambled after his 1-2 options were covered.  

Defense- South Carolina once again had one of the best defensive units in the SEC last season allowing only 20.3 ppg(2nd in SEC).  Gone is the 1st overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft Jadeveon Clowney and several other holes exist on this defense.  This year's team lacks any proven pass rushers as no returning starter had more than 2 sacks last year.  

South Carolina only returns 1 starter on the defensive line with J.T. Surratt.  South Carolina has two brothers who are dlinemen named Gerald Dixon, their father played at South Carolina 20+ years ago.   One Gerald(#44) will play DE and the other(#92) will backup Surratt.  Abu Lamin is a big interior lineman with potential and Darius English has the ability to be a quality pass rusher.  Don't fool yourself though, as there is no Clowney in this group.

South Carolina is deep with its LBs.  Skai Moore, Kaiwan Lewis, and Marcquis Roberts all started last season.  Moore is the team's top returning tackler from a year ago with 56.  Sharrod Golightly will start at the "spur" position for USC

The secondary is inexperienced with only Brison Williams & Kaedtrix Marcus starting last year.  T.J. Gurley, Chaz Elder, and Rico McWilliams will also see plenty of playing time.  With 2 pass heavy offenses in Texas A&M and East Carolina coming on USC's schedule early, this unit better be ready quickly. 

Special Teams- South Carolina hasn't returned a kickoff for a TD since the 2002 Virginia Game!! Pharoh Cooper has the big playmaking ability to finally end that streak.  Elliot Fry made 15 of 18 FG attempts last year.  Tyler Hull was last in the SEC last year with a 37.8 avg.  Hull can boot it deep, but sometimes you never know where that ball is going once it touches his football.

Final Outlook- Since 2001 I have either predicted correctly or come within 1 game of South Carolina's final record.  Last year I picked USC to finish 11-1 and missed it by 1 game.  

Steve Spurrier continues to accomplish more firsts at South Carolina.  Last year's senior class was the winningest in school history with 42 wins and I see no reason this year's class won't pass that group in win total(currently at 33).   Spurrier continues to add to his future HOF Resume.

South Carolina does return more lettermen than any team in the SEC this year, but does lose key leaders like Shaw, Ellington, and Clowney from last year's team.   The biggest concerns are on the defensive line and the secondary.  Other than that this team is among the best in the SEC at every position.  

I give Georgia a slight advantage over South Carolina only because I think Mason is the more talented QB than Dylan Thompson.  Still, Thompson has proven all of us wrong before and easily could do so again in 2014.   Steve Spurrier is 0-4 all time vs Gus Malzah(0-1 at Arkansas, 0-3 at Auburn) and with that game being on The Plains it will be tough to win. 

There isn't a game on this schedule that Carolina can't win and Vegas will likely have South Carolina favored in 11 of its 12 games, but I have USC falling just short of reaching Atlanta.  Still, the Gamecocks will end up in a high profile bowl and achieve their 4th straight top 10 national finish.