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College Football Preview: What Sort of Year Will South Carolina Have in 2012?

South Carolina is coming off their best season in school history with 11 wins (10 regular season), but the oddsmakers don’t expect a repeat of last years success. 5Dimes has set the Gamecock’s 2012 college football win totals at over 8.5 (-135) and under 8.5 (+115).

Helping us preview and project South Carolina’s 2012 season win totals are the guys over at Leftover Hot Dog. LOHD is a garnet bleeding Gamecocks Blog that is devoted to writing “garnet and black” tainted opinions about their beloved Gamecocks.

Marcus Lattimore and a nasty D

The strength on the offensive side of the ball will be the rushing attack. South Carolina welcomes back Heisman candidate running back and team leader Marcus Lattimore. Despite playing just seven games, he led the team with 818 yards rushing (116.9 per game) and scored 10 rushing

Don’t expect him to be quite the workhorse he was over the past two years as the Gamecocks have the luxury of having a stable at running back. South Carolina will utilize senior Kenny Miles, sophomore Brandon Wilds (three 100-yard games in 2011), redshirt freshman Shon Carson will see action as will former four-star running back Mike Davis.

The Gamecocks also return three starters along the offensive line for this stable of running backs to run behind and through.

Despite losing four NFL draft picks on defense, including first round selections Stephon Gilmore (CB) and Melvin Ingram (DE), the Gamecocks still figure to field a salty defense.

South Carolina will have a very good defensive front seven whose major strength lies within the defensive line. Led by senior Devin Taylor and phenom Jadeveon Clowney, expect to see this group disturb the opposing offense.

Veterans return at linebacker, with seniors Shaq Wilson and Reginald Bowens in the middle and DeVonte Holloman is back at the Spur.

Passing the ball and stopping the pass?

The season rests on the arm and abilities of quarterback Connor Shaw. Shaw took over as the starter in the middle of last season and showed major potential as the Gamecocks signal caller. In nine starts, he threw for 1,448 yards and 14 touchdowns while also running for 525 yards and eight scores. South Carolina won eight of those nine starts.

In 2012, the opposing defenses will load the box to stop the run. Shaw must step up and connect with the passing targets if they are going to get past some of the big names on the schedule.

But the biggest question for the Gamecocks could be the wide receiving corps after losing Alshon Jeffery to the NFL Draft. On paper, the Gamecocks do not have the numbers that will jump out at you not knowing the team.

In saying that, rest assured that passing targets like Ace Sanders, Damiere Byrd or true freshman Shaq Roland will step up and help quarterback Connor Shaw get the job done.

On defense, the weakness is depth in the secondary. Once you get past the first line, the second or third options are bleak. This group has to step up if South Carolina is going to make a serious run at a BCS bid.

Gamecock Schedule Analysis

Tough! As if dealing with an SEC East schedule wasn’t tough enough, the Gamecocks draw LSU and Arkansas from the SEC West.

Back to back road games at LSU and Florida look especially daunting, but the Gamecocks do have a favorable home schedule getting SEC East favorite Georgia at home, as well as Missouri, Tennessee and Arkansas.

Likely Wins: Vanderbilt, East Carolina, UAB, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee and Wofford.

Likely losses: LSU

Toss Ups: Arkansas, Florida, Georgia and Clemson

South Carolina can certainly hang with everyone on their schedule, including LSU, but these four games present unique challenges. UF and UGA will determine the SEC East winner. Arkansas is a thorn in the side of the Gamecocks. For some reason, they compete tough when facing South Carolina and despite owning Clemson in recent years, an away rivalry game is never guaranteed.

South Carolina’s 2012 College Football Win Totals

With seven likely wins, only one likely loss and two of four toss ups being played in Columbia, I like South Carolina’s chances of winning at least 9 games this year.

How many games do you think South Carolina will win this season? Can they beat Georgia and Florida and win the SEC East?

- Pez

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