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College Football Preview: 8. South Carolina Gamecocks

8. South Carolina Gamecocks

Steve Spurrier has had two straight 11 win teams at South Carolina. This 2013 has the chance to be even better than those two. They have a senior leader at quarterback, the best defensive player in the entire nation and an All-American caliber defensive tackle. If they can get through a tough late season stretch against Florida and Clemson the Gamecocks could roll all the way to a national title.

Connor Shaw
Backfield: Connor Shaw has emerged as one of the better quarterbacks in the SEC. He has a strong, accurate arm and can also do a lot of damage with his legs. Though he does take a beating being a mobile quarterback he is tough and needs to stay healthy. Junior Dylan Thompson played a little bit as a sophomore last year and should be a quality backup to Shaw. Marcus Lattimore is off to the NFL and hopefully recovering from his severe knee injury. Sophomores Brandon Wilds and Mike Davis should take over the tailback job. Davis is the quicker and more agile and uses his tiny 5-9 frame to squeeze into running lanes. Wilds is pretty fast but is more like Lattimore, as he embraces contact. Hopefully, he doesn't struggle through injuries like Lattimore.

Receivers: Explosive, electric and game-changing Ace Sanders left early to the NFL leaving a pretty big hole in South Carolina's receiving group. Sanders was never a fantastic receiver but he definitely was important. Junior Bruce Ellington, a two-sports star should become Shaw's security blanket. Ellington is South Carolina's leading returning receiver, catching 600 yards in 2012. He is pretty fast and is able to catch the ball in traffic. Sophomore Shaq Roland has big play potential with his ability to seperate from defensive backs. With some more snaps under his belt he should continue to improve in a number of areas. Small junior receiver Damiere Byrd is also dangerous in the open field but his hands aren't the best. He struggles with drops and struggles to make catches when he goes up against talented defensive backs. The tight end position is wide open with Justice Cunningham now graduated.

Offensive Line: With just one starter gone the Gamecocks offensive line appears very solid. Junior left tackle Corey Robinson isn't exactly easy to pass. Nobody 6-8, 338 pounds is easy to pass especially Robinson who is very mobile for his huge body. On the other side it appears Brandon Shell, a sophomore, should start. Though improving junior Cody Gibson looks like he may be an option for right tackle. With center T.J. Johnson gone the starting spot should go to freshman Cody Waldrop. This of course could be an issue with an inexperienced player going up against the great pass rushers of the SEC.
Jadeveon Clowney

Defensive Line: We all know "The Hit" but defensive end Jadeveon Clowney did a lot more than that in his sophomore season. He had 13 sacks in 2012 along with 54 total tackles. Clowney enters his junior season as a near certain Number One overall pick on Draft Day 2014. He is quick off the edge, runs over opposing offensive linemen and as Vincent Smith knows, he is a hard hitter. Tackle Kelcy Quarles has the talent to be dominant. He is a proven run stuffer up the middle and is also a decent pass rusher. With teams worrying about Clowney on the perimeter Quarles should find a lot of gaps in the middle. Junior end Chaz Sutton should also be helped by the presence of Clowney. Freshman Kelsey Griffin should get some snaps at the defensive tackle spot. He has the body of a defensive end and is incredibly fast for a tackle running a 4.97 40-yard-dash.

Linebackers: As strong as the Gamecocks defensive line is their linebacker group is very weak with a lot of losses. Shaq Wilson and Reginald Bowens are gone leaving some massive gaps. Sophomore Kaiwan Lewis should play a big role as starting middle linebacker. He hasn't played much so far and had just 3 tackles in 2012. Outside 'backer Cedrick Cooper missed most of spring with a knee injury but should be an instant contributor this year. With all these losses and holes freshman could play a major role. Athletic linebacker Larenz Bryant played both ways in high school and can make plays from sideline to sideline.

Secondary: With a lot of experience this secondary unit should be very strong in '13. Junior cornerback Victor Hampton had a strong sophomore season and has fantastic coverage skills. Hampton also can prove to be important in rush defense as he had 40 tackles last year, a number that could go up. Starting at the other side is senior Jimmy Legree who record 3 interceptions in 2012. Quarterbacks should be very worried passing in the directions of Legree and Hampton. Junior Brison Williams should prove to be a solid starter at the strong safety spot. Though the big issue for this secondary is the loss of All-SEC safety D.J. Swearinger who was the leader of this defense a year ago. Kadetrix Marcus and T.J. Gurley should battle to replace him.

South Carolina has the potential to win it all. Clowney is amazing and their offense is strong enough to keep them consistently in games. Though they need a back whether it is Wilds or Davis to emerge in order to get over the hump and win the SEC East.

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