The 2014 college football season kicks off in 178 hours and counting. For South Carolina football, preparation for Texas A&M began on Monday, meaning the coaches have a good idea of how the depth chart will look and what to expect from their respective units on August 28th. Since practices have been closed for the last two weeks however, those of us in the general public and the media have nothing to do but read these columns and speculate among ourselves. That said, here are 7 questions that will hopefully make for entertaining and provocative discussions over the next 7 days:
2) Who will be the Gamecock’s MVP?
If South Carolina is to reach the lofty goals to which they are aspiring this year, this will be a difficult question to answer. At the very least, there will be an offensive and defensive player worthy of this notoriety, but who will it be?
Where else to start but with the quarterback. With a horrifyingly deep stable of running backs Dylan Thompson could have an ok year, and the Gamecocks would still win nine games, but to get back to Atlanta and reclaim the Eastern Division title, Thompson will need to be excellent. This does not mean having a 24:1 TD:INT ratio like Shaw did last year, but he will need to get his completion percentage up from last year as well as his TD:INT ratio.
Thompson has all the skills necessary to be an elite SEC quarterback in his only year to be the starter and possesses the same even-keeled approach that made Shaw so clutch. With all the tools, a strong offensive line, a deep wide receiving corps, and an unparalleled work ethic, Thompson should be the MVP of the offense.
That is of course, unless Mike Davis has something to say about it. Davis rushed for 1183 yards on 203 carries, including seven 100-yard games in the first nine games. In the two games that he did not amass 100 yards on the ground (Vanderbilt and Missouri), he went over the century mark in total yards by catching passes out of the backfield. His blend of speed and power is rare, he has soft hands, and his biggest weakness, untimely turnovers, is a fixable problem.
The odds of him wearing down by the end of a grueling SEC schedule too, are unlikely, since he will split snaps with Brandon Wilds, Shon Carson, and, perhaps to a lesser extent, David Williams. Wilds is good enough to start most anywhere in the country and should get 8-12 touches a game, with Davis getting closer to 20. Keeping Davis fresh throughout the season will be key to offensive success.
Shaq Roland and Pharoh Cooper are two wild cards to watch as well. Roland has been getting more consistent as he develops into a more complete receiver and has shown flashes and stretches of how game-changing he can be when he is at the top of his game. Cooper may be the most exciting player on offense for South Carolina with the ability to line up at wild cat quarterback or wide receiver. He can catch, pass, run with the ball in space, and will also be used as a specialist. Both of these players are talented enough to be in the discussion for some post-season awards.
For a defense that lost talent and leadership in JD Clowney, Jimmy Legree, Chaz Sutton, Victor Hampton, and Kelcy Quarles, there is still a surprising number of playmakers.
The entire linebacking corps is extremely talented and deep after losing exactly no one from the two-deep last season. Of these, Skai Moore is the biggest name that no one is talking about. He led the team in tackles and interceptions as a true freshman. This season, with an entire year of SEC football under his belt, Moore should become one of the most fearsome linebackers in the league and the heart of the Gamecocks’ defense.
Another name from the Kirk Botkin’s unit that could become a household name by season’s end is Bryson Allen-Williams. A true freshman who was not expected to break the two-deep with so many talented incumbents, Allen-Williams immediately made an impact and took ownership over the new BOB linebacker (Big ‘ole backer) position, which is the fourth linebacker spot in the 3-4 installed for this season. Lorenzo Ward has praised his physicality and will try to get him on the field in a variety of different ways this fall.
In the secondary, there were and still are quite a few questions to be asked of the Gamecocks. With the departure of starting corners Jimmy Legree and Victor Hampton and Ahmad Christian’s unexpected transfer, senior safety Brison Williams moved down to cornerback in the spring to help with depth. Once the new class arrived, many people believed that Brison would move back his more natural position, but he has excelled at corner during preseason camp and will start Thursday’s game against Texas A&M there. Even in a new position, Williams’ knowledge of the defense and leadership could make him the defensive MVP, especially now that one of the four scholarship cornerbacks on South Carolina’s roster, Jamari Smith, will miss the entire season with a broken foot.
Other wild cards on the defense are true freshman Al Harris Jr., who is slated for the start at cornerback along with Brison Williams, and Gerald Dixon. Harris is the son of Al Harris Sr., who was one the NFL’s best lockdown corners for a decade, and is showing flashes early in camp that he could mature into a talented defensive back himself.
Dixon will be replacing Chaz Sutton on the defensive line and, after serving as a backup for the last two years, will have a huge responsibility, along with Darius English, of disproving all the nay-sayers about South Carolina’s pass rush. If Dixon can take that next step and become an all-conference type of pass rusher, it would help cover up any potential (youth-related) weaknesses in the secondary.
Be sure to check out the rest of the countdown right here!