2010 NCAA Football Preview: South Carolina Gamecocks

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Between now and the September 2nd season kick-off, Danny Hobrock will be previewing all the major college football teams with new teams being released daily.

2009 Season Breakdown

2009 final record (overall, conference): 7-6, 3-5
Bowl Game: Bowl (L 20-7 vs. Connecticut)
Final Ranking (AP, Coaches'): NR, NR
Conference finish: 5th SEC East
Offensive rank: 82
Defensive rank: 15

2009 Individual Statistical Leaders

Rushing: Kenny Miles, 626 yards, 1 TD
Passing: Stephen Garcia, 2,862 yards, 17 TD, 10 INT
Receiving: JAlshon Jeffery, 763 yards, 6 TD
Tackles: Shaq Wilson, 85 total tackles; Eric Norwood, 81 total tackles
Sacks: Eric Norwood and Cliff Matthews, 7 sacks (7 solo)
Interceptions: Eric Norwood, 2 interceptions (1 touchdown)

2010 Season Outlook

(* denotes conference game)

Key Matchups

September 11 vs. Georgia: This is a tough way to open conference play, but at least they get the Bulldogs at home. Getting off on the right foot against one of the SEC's better teams would be a nice boost for a team with such a tough schedule ahead of them.

October 9 vs. Eastern Michigan: This is the first road test of the season and it comes against a pretty tough Tigers team. The talent is there to pull out a victory, which would be nice considering they get the defending champs the next game.

October 16-30 @ Kentucky, @ Vanderbilt, vs. Tennessee: Winning the softer matchups in their own division will be important if this team hopes to finish in its upper half. Kentucky and Vanderbilt should be wins and Tennessee was in a rebuilding year before injuries and off-field issues wreaked havoc on the depth chart.

November 27 @ Clemson: It won't affect the conference record, but heading into the bowl season (hopefully) coming off a win over in-state rival Clemson would be huge.


Coaches': Not Ranked

Key Losses

Moe Brown, WR; Clifton Geathers, DE; Eric Norwood, LB; Darian Stewart, S

Key Returning Players

Stephen Garcia, QB; Alshon Jeffery, WR; Weslye Saunders, TE; Jarriel King, G; T.J. Johnson, C; Cliff Matthews, DE; Ladi Ajiboye, DT; Shaq Wilson, LB; Stephon Gilmore, CB; Chris Culliver, CB

Offensive Overview

Stephen Garcia has had to deal with public challenges from his head coach this offseason. He has the potential and some of his struggles last season were likely due to the porous offensive line that was protecting him, but if he can't get it done as a junior with a talented group of wide receivers and a good backfield as a supporting cast, Spurrier may turn things over to freshman dual threat quarterback Connor Shaw. On the subject of the offensive line, four starters return to a unit that let up 37 sacks last season and ranked tied for 105th in the nation in sacks allowed. It'll be a veteran group, but if they can't keep pass rushers out of the backfield, some of the younger guys could see more time.

The skill positions are the strength of the offense, especially with big things expected of running back Marcus Lattimore. Kenny Miles is expected to get the start at running back, but Lattimore could challenge him for playing time as the season gets going, while Brian Maddox, who led the team in rushing touchdowns, also expected to see his fair share of carries. And then don't forget about Jarvis Giles, a talented sophomore who will also be hard to keep off the field.

Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery looked good as a true freshman last season and returns as the team's top target. Tori Gurley is another young pass catcher expected to have a big impact this season. Gurley, at 6'5 and 230 pounds, and Jeffery, at 6'4 and 237 pounds, have excellent size, giving Garcia some big options to throw to, especially around the goal line. Benefiting from the attention likely to be paid to Jeffery and Gurley is D.L. Moore, another big receiver at 6'4, 198 pounds who could be in for an excellent season. At tight end, Wesleye Saunders may be the best in the country, as long as nothing comes of his chats with the NCAA regarding a South Beach party. At 6'6, 273 pounds, he has the size of a smaller tackle, but can get open to give Garcia another big target.

Defensive Overview

The secondary might be the best in the SEC. They lose Darian Stewart, but have plenty returning to make this one of the best pass defenses in the country. They were eighth last season, allowing an average of just 163 yards per game. Chris Culliver moves to corner after starting at free safety last season, with Stephon Gilmore joining him at the other corner spot. DeVonte Holloman is the newcomer to the bunch at strong safety with Akeem Auguste moving over to free safety after getting nine starts at corner. There's NFL talent on this unit and there's no reason why the Gamecocks cannot repeat last year's performance with another top 10 pass defense.

Helping the secondary will be an effective pass rush from Cliff Matthews, who returns as the star of the unit at defensive end after tying with departed linebacker Eric Norwood for the team lead with seven sacks. Finding help elsewhere is a priority, though, and Devin Taylor will be looked upon to compliment Matthews on the other side. Taylor is a 6'8, 244 pound end who should benefit from the attention given to Matthews on the other side. In the middle is Ladi Ajiboye. He's more of a factor against the run than in the pass rush, but is a nice peg on the interior. Joining him will be Travian Robinson and Melvin Ingram.

The linebackers corps loses Norwood, but Shaq Wilson, who was actually the leading tackler with 85 compared to Norwood's 81, will move over from the middle to take over the weakside. Wilson will be the star of this unit and many argue that playing on the weakside will be a better fit and should allow him to be even more effective than he was last year. Rodney Paulk will take over in the middle with Wilson moving over, but Josh Dickerson, a JUCO transfer, could see time on the interior as well. Antonio Allen returns to the Spur linebacker/safety position, although he could see a push from Damario Jeffery.

Special Teams Overview

Spencer Lanning put together a nice season in 2009, hitting 17 of 20 field goals, 28 of his 29 extra points and averaging 41.9 yards per punt. He may not be the biggest leg in the country, but he is a great option as both a kicker inside the 40 and a consistent punter. Chris Culliver shared kick return duties with Bryce Sherman last year, returning 26 kicks for 585 yards, which was good for an average of just 22.5 yards. It's not the worst average, but the leading kick returner in school history can do better. Stephon Gilmore averaged a nice 10.1 yards per return on 15 tries as a punt returner last season.

Head Coach: Steve Spurrier

Steve Spurrier is among the most well-known coaches in the country regardless of level. He began his coaching career at Florida, his alma mater where he played quarterback from 1963 to 1966, as a quarterbacks coach following a ten-year career in the NFL mostly with the San Francisco 49ers. He was the offensive coordinator at Duke from '80 to '82 and later the head coach from '87 to '89. In 1990 he again returned to his alma mater, this time as head coach in a position that would make him one of the game's most recognizable coaches. He brought Florida a national championship in 1996, and played for the title the year before, and won six SEC championships with a program that had previously never won the SEC in their 57 years of conference membership.

After a brief stint in the NFL as the head coach of the Washington Redskins, Spurrier returned to the college game and the SEC as head coach at South Carolina. He's taken the Gamecocks to four bowl games in his five seasons as head coach, the lone exception coming in 2007 when the Gamecocks finished 6-6. He's never failed to bring in a recruiting class ranked in the top 25 by, with his best South Carolina class (in terms of rankings) coming in 2007 when Rivals ranked his class the sixth best in the country.

Top 2011 Draft Prospects

Weslye Saunders, TE; Jarriel King, G; Cliff Matthews, DE; Ladi Ajiboye, DT; Chris Culliver, CB

Season Prediction

4th SEC East

If not for a killer of a schedule, this team would likely finish in the top three of the East Division, but with Florida away, and Auburn, Alabama and Arkansas from the West Division, finding a way to finish ahead of Kentucky and Georgia will be difficult. I mentioned that the Gamecocks have had some good recruiting classes over the past five years, but that has yet to translate into more than a decent season on the field. But let's try not to hark on the negative. There's enough talent for this team to compete in the East with Georgia or, if you want to reach a bit, a Florida team that lost a great deal of experienced talent, but until the Gamecocks can put all of their talent together enough to make a run at a division title it's hard to expect greatness. And then there's that schedule… - Danny Hobrock

Danny is a sports journalist primarily covering college football and professional baseball. His work for Xtra Point Football has garnered national attention and is critically acclaimed. Danny is the former editor of a political and current events website and the editor of our college football content.

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