Two-a-Days rolls on with our fourth installment, in which we take a closer look at the South Carolina Gamecocks.
To read previous entries, click HERE.
Head Coach: Steve Spurrier, sixth year
2009 Record: 7-6 (3-5 SEC), lost to Connecticut in the PapaJohns.com Bowl
2009 Stats: Total offense, 347.38 ypg (9th SEC, 82nd nationally); Total defense, 300.69 ypg (3rd SEC, 15th nationally)
Coaching Changes: Former Appalachian State assistant Shawn Elliott takes over for departed O line coach/running game coordinator Eric Wolford, who left to head up Youngstown State's program. Spurrier will also be more involved this season, calling 100 percent of South Carolina's offensive plays.
Starters Returning: Offense (8), Defense (7), Special Teams (2)
Key Player Losses: LB Eric Norwood, DE Clifton Geathers, WR Moe Brown
Big Games: Georgia (9/11), Alabama (10/9), @ Florida (11/13) and @ Clemson (11/27)
Non-Conference Slate: Southern Miss (9/2), Furman (9/18), Troy (11/20) and @ Clemson (11/27)
The late-season trials and tribulations continued for South Carolina in 2009 and after five full seasons on the job, Steve Spurrier hasn't been able to get the Gamecocks over the hump. But with one of the calmer offseasons among its Eastern Division rivals -- QB complaints aside -- South Carolina has become a chic pick to earn its first trip the the SEC title game in 2010.
To get the low-down on how serious a contender the Gamecocks really are, I checked in with South Carolina beat writer Seth Emerson of The State. Here's what he had to say...
David Hale: So it sounds like Steve Spurrier isn't the biggest Stephen Garcia fan in the world. What is the potential impact of Spurrier's public flogging of his QB, and is there any chance we might see Connor Shaw as the starting QB at some point this season?
Seth Emerson: Yeah, it emerged as the storyline of camp, partly because there weren't any better stories, but also because it moved a bit beyond the normal Spurrier carping about his quarterback. In a nutshell, Garcia isn't getting it quite done off the field - still misses some meetings, things like that - and on the field still makes what the coaches think are dumb mistakes - like the wrong read on a route - which the coaches trace back to not being as committed off the field.
Garcia didn't take the public criticism too lightly, saying it "upset" him but would make him more committed to prove Spurrier wrong. Will he? That's anyone's guess.
When push comes to shove, I don't think we'll see Connor Shaw starting against Southern Miss, unless Spurrier really wants to send a message. The kid's still a true freshman. That said, Shaw impressed me in camp, a dual-threat quarterback who seemed a pretty heady kid. So you never know, especially with Spurrier.
DH: How much better has Stephon Gilmore gotten since Georgia last saw him, and where might we seem him on the field come September? Will he be a regular part of the offense in addition to his CB duties?
SE: He's gotten better as a cornerback, but he wasn't that bad to begin with. He was hardly a true freshman, having enrolled early, and the coaches raved about him. He'll cover the boundary side of the field for the Gamecocks for the foreseeable future.
As for quarterback, we'll see. The results were mixed for that, especially throwing, but he gives them an added dimension running wise. He didn't do too great in the spring game in the one series he got - he was picked off. It'll be interesting to see in August how much they take a true look at him there, but with Garcia and Shaw both being mobile quarterbacks, that kind of takes away the pressing need to put him in there.
DH: Bigger issue at this point: How good the D line might be or how concerning the O line might be? How has new O line coach Shawn Elliott tweaked what was a big problem for the Gamecocks last year?
SE: Oh, it's the O-Line by a mile. The D-Line should be fine, the only concern in the spring was that three starters were sitting out, all with precautionary reasons. Cliff Matthews could lead the SEC in sacks, the other end (Devin Taylor) is an athletic specimen, and the two DTs are veterans.
The O-Line, once again, is a work in progress. They were OK in the spring, and add six recruits who arrive this summer. Elliott has done some tweaking, as part of an inside zone running scheme you'll see more of this season. But will this line improve? I'll believe it when I see it.
DH: Most pundits seem to view South Carolina as perhaps the most settled team in the division (which granted, is a rather dubious honor). What do you see as the main concerns after spring practice? Were there any surprises in terms of who really stood out during the spring?
SE: Quarterback shouldn't be a concern, but now it is. The tailback situation is in flux, as stud recruit Marcus Lattimore arrives this summer. The O-Line we discussed. The defensive secondary has a potential issue, with Chris Culliver (formerly a safety, who sat out the spring after shoulder surgery) flipping positions with Akeem Auguste. The two linebackers (Rodney Paulk and Shaq Wilson) are both pretty small for the SEC.
I'd say the biggest surprises to me were Shaw, receiver D.L. Moore, and some of the younger secondary players. But no one stood up and made you say "wow."
DH: From what you saw this spring and the folks you've talked to about the team, how realistic would you say South Carolina's chances of finally grabbing an SEC East title are in 2010?
SE: Realistically, they've got a shot. But given that Florida, and to a certain extent Georgia, are merely reloading with the major talent they've recruited in recent years, the Gamecocks still need to have everything line up right. Garcia needs to have his head on straight, the running backs need to produce, the offensive line needs to at least be serviceable, the defense needs a pass rush and to avoid injuries, the special teams needs to become a plus.
If most or all of that happens, yes South Carolina can win the division. And the fact is, that hasn't been true going into past years.
***Big thanks to Seth for his insight. You can read his Gamecocks coverage HERE , check out his South Carolina blog HERE and follow him on Twitter HERE.
So, how serious a contender do you view South Carolina as this year? Will you be worried about Georgia's trip to Columbia in Week 2? Or does the public fallout between coach and QB lead you to believe another 7- or 8-win season is the highwater mark for the Cocks?
And don't forget, we'll be wrapping up Two-A-Days with an in-depth look at Georgia, so if you have questions you want answered, leave them in the comments section here or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
NEXT UP: Mississippi State on Wednesday morning.