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:
1) Is it finally next year?
Every year since 1892 (or probably more like the 80’s…but whatever), Gamecock fans have been hanging on to the hope, nay, the knowledge, that next year will be the year; only, next year has never come.
Even during the 21-game losing streak, where South Carolina went 1-10 and 0-11 in consecutive years, the post-game show of every game was always: “guys, I know we’ve lost 20 games in a row, but I really think next year is our year”.
My uncle decided that Williams-Brice should be renamed “The Promised Land”.
It has not yet been 40 years since a shot to play for the National Title slipped through the Gamecocks’ fingers (feathers? Talons?), but this year could finally be next year.
Steve Spurrier has turned the South Carolina football program into a perennial contender in fewer than ten seasons, almost undoing the near century of mediocrity that preceded his arrival. With expert recruiting (especially in-state), an outstanding coaching staff, and a dramatic change in mindset for everyone in and around the South Carolina football program, the Head Ball Coach has built a legitimate National Championship contender.
Of course, those were the same reasons that the Gamecocks should have won it last year, and may have had a chance, if not for their stinker at Tennessee.
This season, with perhaps a slightly more favorable schedule (SEC East opponents Georgia and Missouri at home), few have the Gamecocks winning the SEC, much less making a run in the playoffs, largely due to the key losses of Jadeveon Clowney, Connor Shaw, Kelcy Quarles, and Victor Hampton.
What people seem to underrate however, is how good Dylan Thompson should (can, will) be, how deep the Gamecocks are along the defensive line, particularly at tackle, and how important an elite rushing attack is in the SEC.
Not only is South Carolina in prime position to make a run at the playoffs because of their personnel, but they will have the element of surprise to some degree. After three consecutive 11-win seasons, people are not exactly going to forget about them, and yet it seems like the talking heads are already writing them off this year.
If South Carolina does come out of the woodwork and win the SEC, few would be shocked, but until then, most people will be expecting a solid, double-digit win, and Eastern Division title winning season: a very respectable year, but nothing more.
With a committee of humans, not computers, deciding who will make the playoff this year, it is not entirely unrealistic that a one or two loss SEC Champion could make the playoffs. Considering that the SEC is as deep as ever this season, and less top-heavy than recent years, it does not seem feasible that anyone can make it through the SEC gauntlet unscathed.
If South Carolina can take care of business in the East, against Georgia and Missouri and home and Florida in the swamp in particular, their game at Jordan-Hare could just be gravy.
If the Gamecocks can win the games in which they are favored (likely all of them except for Auburn), and lose just that Auburn game, they will control their own destiny. Winning the SEC would be an automatic trip to the playoffs, and from there, they would be just two wins away from the Promised Land.
The key to this year will be running the ball with their stacked stable of backs, led by Mike Davis, and the rest of whom would start, or at least see significant playing time, at nearly any school in the country. They also need the utmost efficiency out of Dylan Thompson.
Thompson has a very deep receiving corps and a veteran offensive line to help with this, and while he will not have to replicate Connor Shaw’s unprecedented success from last season, he will be expected to run the offense with similar efficiency.
Limiting turnovers and minimizing opponents chances to score is always crucial, but even more so at the front end of this season. South Carolina’s first three opponents will look to spread the ball all over the field and quickly to take advantage of youth in the secondary.
The Gamecock offense will have the fire power to outscore nearly everyone on their schedule this year, but they will want to avoid shootouts if they can, especially early on, as Al Harris Jr., Chris Lammons, and Wesley Green, three true freshman and three of the top five cornerbacks, get acclimated to the college game.
Of course, even the best teams need a few bounces to go their way, and it seems that, for once, that seems to be the case for the South Carolina football program. This season could be the perfect storm for Steve Spurrier and the long-tortured, ever-faithful Gamecock fans.
Talent, coaching, schedule, the best damn home-field advantage in college football…is it next finally next year?
Is it finally next year?
Be sure to check out the rest of the countdown right here!