2013 South Carolina football's 10 things to know: The Clowney effect

Streeter Lecka

A thin South Carolina defense was thinned out even more by graduation, the offense will be relying pretty heavily on an untested sophomore running back, and special teams could be a liability without the star punt returner? Yes, but ... Jadeveon Clowney! For more Gamecocks, visit South Carolina site Garnet and Black Attack.

Confused? Check out the glossary here.

1. Never mind the West Virginia Effect

South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is better at his position than any other player in college football is at theirs. That goes for Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, USC receiver Marqise Lee, Notre Dame tackle Stephon Tuitt, BYU outside linebacker Kyle Van Noy, or anybody else. A boom-or-bust player as a freshman in 2011, Clowney not only lived up to the hype of being the No. 1 recruit in the country in 2012, he did so in a way that dooms almost every future No. 1 recruit to bust status by comparison.

Clowney was not only incredible at his position in 2012, he was incredible in a human-highlight-reel kind of way. And he saved his best highlights for the end of the season, so that everybody in the college football universe would brightly remember them long into the offseason. First, he recorded 4.5 sacks versus Clemson...

...and then he erased Michigan running back Vincent Smith from existence.

Every year, we witness the West Virginia Effect, in which a team that looks amazing in its bowl game gets increasingly ridiculous hype as the long, arduous offseason plods along. You forget about the shortcomings the given team had during the regular season, and you just remember the perfect final act. It's human nature, really. You could also call it the Nebraska Effect if you so choose. Louisville seems like the most likely victim candidate for the West Virginia Effect in 2013 (Clemson's also in the conversation), but in taking a gander at The Sporting News' preseason top 25 that was released this week, I think we can add another effect to the list: The Clowney Effect.

Issue: South Carolina returns only one of its top five running backs, and the ground game was really only above-average at best, even when Marcus Lattimore was healthy.

Response: Jadeveon Clowney.

Issue: South Carolina also returns only one of its top four receiving targets from a passing game that was explosive but not incredibly efficient.

Response: Jadeveon Clowney.

Issue: South Carolina must also replace its top five linebackers, not to mention stud safety D.J. Swearinger and stud end Devin Taylor from a defense that was perilously thin last year.

Response: Jadeveon Clowney.

Now, if any single defensive player could carry a good team to greatness, it's Clowney. But he alone is not going to mask the other issues South Carolina had last year. To live up to even Top 10 hype, much less Top 3 hype, the Gamecocks are going to need some freshmen and sophomores to rather quickly come up big, and that's always a scary proposition.

The schedule is strangely navigable, yes, and the ceiling is high; but it's difficult for me to see this team as a reliable threat to reach the BCS title game.

2. Escape from Glen Mason Territory

It really did take Steve Spurrier a little while to re-establish himself at the college level. He returned to the SEC in 2005, engineered enough of an improvement to get the Gamecocks back to a bowl game for the first time in four seasons, then basically stagnated for the next four years. Despite his reputation as one of the most innovative, interesting offensive coaches of the last 25 years, his early South Carolina teams just weren't very good on offense. (And even now, after three straight years of high-quality ball, the offense still lags behind the defense by a decent margin.) He lost either five or six games in each of his first six seasons in Columbia.

If not for his résumé, Spurrier could have been an interesting Glen Mason Territory candidate.

Beginning in 2010, however, the Gamecocks turned a corner. Improvement didn't show up in the win column until 2011, but they have ranked 14th, 20th, and 13th in the F/+ rankings over the last three years, they won the 2010 SEC East title, and they have gone 11-2 in each of the last two years. Granted, South Carolina fans probably didn't expect that it would take Spurrier six seasons to establish such a high level of play, but he has now.

2012 Schedule & Results

Record: 11-2 | Adj. Record: 11-2 | Final F/+ Rk: 13
Date Opponent Score W-L Adj. Score Adj. W-L
30-Aug at Vanderbilt 17-13 W 29.1 - 16.8 W
8-Sep East Carolina 48-10 W 32.8 - 26.2 W
15-Sep UAB 49-6 W 38.5 - 10.2 W
22-Sep Missouri 31-10 W 39.6 - 24.8 W
29-Sep at Kentucky 38-17 W 30.6 - 19.4 W
6-Oct Georgia 35-7 W 36.1 - 9.9 W
13-Oct at LSU 21-23 L 23.2 - 28.7 L
20-Oct at Florida 11-44 L 15.5 - 12.2 W
27-Oct Tennessee 38-35 W 31.3 - 28.9 W
10-Nov Arkansas 38-20 W 28.9 - 26.9 W
17-Nov Wofford 24-7 W 20.6 - 29.5 L
24-Nov at Clemson 27-17 W 27.4 - 23.0 W
1-Jan vs. Michigan 33-28 W 46.0 - 18.1 W
Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
Points Per Game 31.5 44 18.2 13
Adj. Points Per Game 30.7 48 21.1 14

3. Wearing down

South Carolina was done no favors by the Injury Bug in 2012. Star running back Marcus Lattimore was lost for the season with a torn-up knee in the ninth game of the year, backup running back Brandon Wilds never saw the field at all, and quarterback Connor Shaw missed two games and was less than 100 percent for others. Clowney and Swearinger both missed time, and only three of the top eight defensive backs played in all 13 games. And some combination of injury and poor depth had South Carolina playing pretty average football down the stretch.

Adj. Points Per Game (first 8 games): SC 30.7, Opponent 18.5 (+12.2)
Adj. Points Per Game (next 4 games): SC 27.1, Opponent 27.1 (+0.0)

Granted, this slump didn't impact South Carolina's record -- the Gamecocks avoided upsets against Tennessee (a late UT comeback fell short), Arkansas, and Wofford (7-7 heading into Q4) and still beat Clemson on the road. And after some time to heal, the Gamecocks played quite well in the Outback Bowl versus Michigan (and they needed to -- Michigan played well, too).

Even if it was due mostly to injuries, the late-season regression is a bit of a red flag for 2013 simply because of the number of key players the defense must replace. The linebacking corps is starting from scratch, and the secondary is without its anchor, Swearinger. A similar run of injuries could be devastating this time around, though odds are perhaps in favor of South Carolina avoiding a similar run of injuries.

Offense

Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 84 44 57 41
RUSHING 91 65 65 67
PASSING 58 38 51 32
Standard Downs 83 93 79
Passing Downs 11 14 12
Redzone 51 46 53
Q1 Rk 72 1st Down Rk 62
Q2 Rk 68 2nd Down Rk 50
Q3 Rk 17 3rd Down Rk 10
Q4 Rk 6

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2013 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Comp Att Yards Comp
Rate
TD INT Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Connor Shaw 6'1, 204 Sr. *** (5.7) 154 228 1,956 67.5% 17 7 25 9.9% 7.1
Dylan Thompson 6'3, 212 Jr. ** (5.4) 66 127 1,027 52.0% 10 2 13 9.3% 6.6
Seth Strickland


4 6 96 66.7% 1 0 0 0.0% 16.0
Brendan Nosovitch 6'1, 223 RSFr. *** (5.6)






Connor Mitch 6'3, 210 Fr. **** (5.8)






4. Shaw vs. Thompson

In February at Football Study Hall, I wrote a long piece about quarterbacks and the charting data we had compiled in 2012. For me, one of the most interesting takeaways from the piece was just how different the South Carolina offense was when Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson were behind center.

Nobody threw deep more frequently in this sample than South Carolina's Connor Shaw. […] With Conner Shaw in the game, South Carolina goes either very short or very long; with Dylan Thompson, there's a lot more intermediate passing.

When healthy, Shaw is a dangerous dual-threat quarterback. Shaw is an effective runner, and South Carolina happily pecks away at you with six-yard gains, sucking you in and eventually leaving you vulnerable to big gains downfield. With Thompson in the game, however, the offense changes. Thompson is far from immobile, but he doesn't run nearly as much as Shaw (pass-attempts-to-carries ratio: Shaw 2.38, Thompson 6.67), and South Carolina takes on more of a pro-style look, with running backs doing the running and the quarterback throwing intermediate passes.

The offense is also less effective when Thompson is in, of course.

Adj. Points Per Game (with Shaw): 30.9
Adj. Points Per Game (with Thompson): 27.2

Shaw is the starter as long as he can fend off injuries, but in Thompson, South Carolina does appear to have a backup that can at least fend off major regression. And in 2014, it will be interesting to see if a couple of more highly touted youngsters can challenge Thompson for the starting role.

One note, however: Both quarterbacks take far too many sacks, especially on standard downs. Shaw was particularly good at bailing himself out on passing downs, but the Gamecocks were far below average on standard downs and fell into too many second- and third-and-longs overall.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Rushes Yards Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Carry
TD Adj.
POE
Marcus Lattimore RB 143 662 4.6 4.4 11 -2.2
Brandon Wilds (2011) RB 6'2, 218 So. *** (5.5) 107 486 4.5 N/A 3 -4.7
Connor Shaw QB 6'1, 204 Sr. *** (5.7) 106 586 5.5 4.2 3 +8.0
Kenny Miles RB 104 359 3.5 2.8 2 -11.5
Mike Davis RB 5'9, 215 So. **** (5.9) 52 275 5.3 8.5 2 +2.0
Dylan Thompson QB 6'3, 212 Jr. ** (5.4) 21 130 6.2 5.2 1 +3.3
Bruce Ellington WR 5'9, 197 Jr. NR 5 28 5.6 8.5 0 -0.1
Shon Carson RB 5'8, 219 So. *** (5.7)




Kendric Salley RB 5'9, 215 RSFr. *** (5.6)




David Williams RB 6'1, 192 Fr. **** (5.8)





5. Mike Davis might decide this team's fate

When healthy, Marcus Lattimore always passes the eyeball test. He just looks like a future all-pro running back. But even before injuries, Lattimore didn't post irreplaceable numbers in 2011 or 2012. He was lost for the season with an awful knee injury for two straight years, and in neither season did South Carolina's numbers suffer without him.

Even if a back is replaceable, you still need to find someone to actually replace him. Kenny Miles is also gone, and Brandon Wilds didn't exactly light the world on fire in 2011; after an interesting freshman season, Mike Davis entered spring 2013 with a chance to seize control of the starting running back job, and it appears he did just that.

Davis' upside is high. He had a nice recruiting pedigree, and he easily showed more explosiveness than any other South Carolina back last year. If the Gamecocks are able to lean on him and set up both keepers by Shaw and downfield passing to Bruce Ellington, Damiere Byrd, and company, they should put more than enough points on the board to roll through most of their 2013 schedule. The offensive line, decent to good last year, returns six players with starting experience and is big and mean in the middle. Davis should be able to take advantage of the running lanes the line generates.

Mike Davis. Curtis Wilson, USA Today.

Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Yds/
Target
Target
Rate
%SD Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Ace Sanders WR 73 45 531 61.6% 7.3 20.9% 54.8% 7.0 80.8
Bruce Ellington WR 5'9, 197 Jr. NR 57 40 600 70.2% 10.5 16.3% 64.9% 10.6 91.3
Justice Cunningham TE 31 23 324 74.2% 10.5 8.9% 51.6% 10.3 49.3
Marcus Lattimore RB 30 26 173 86.7% 5.8 8.6% 46.7% 5.8 26.3
Rory Anderson TE 6'5, 218 Jr. *** (5.6) 28 14 271 50.0% 9.7 8.0% 53.6% 9.7 41.2
Damiere Byrd WR 5'9, 168 Jr. **** (5.8) 23 14 366 60.9% 15.9 6.6% 52.2% 15.8 55.7
Kenny Miles RB 23 20 190 87.0% 8.3 6.6% 52.2% 8.0 28.9
Nick Jones WR 5'7, 171 Jr. *** (5.6) 20 12 197 60.0% 9.9 5.7% 50.0% 9.0 30.0
D.L. Moore WR 20 8 139 40.0% 7.0 5.7% 65.0% 7.5 21.1
Shaq Roland WR 6'1, 182 So. **** (5.8) 18 5 80 27.8% 4.4 5.1% 55.6% 4.5 12.2
DeAngelo Smith WR 7 2 46 28.6% 6.6 2.0% 57.1% 6.4 7.0
K.J. Brent WR 6'4, 185 So. *** (5.7) 3 3 28 100.0% 9.3 0.9% 33.3% 11.2 4.3
Jerell Adams TE 6'6, 224 So. **** (5.8) 5 4 90 80.0% 18.0 1.4% 60.0% 18.0 13.7
Shamier Jeffery WR 6'1, 204 So. *** (5.7)








Jody Fuller WR 5'11, 211 RSFr. **** (5.8)








Kwinton Smith WR 6'4, 206 RSFr. *** (5.7)








Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 107.0 2.67 3.80 36.4% 65.4% 19.6% 63.8 8.0% 11.4%
Rank 36 98 13 88 75 75 113 111 115
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Career Starts/Honors/Notes
T.J. Johnson C 53 career starts; 2012 2nd All-SEC
A.J. Cann LG 6'4, 310 Jr. **** (5.8) 25 career starts
Ronald Patrick RG 6'2, 315 Sr. *** (5.5) 13 career starts
Brandon Shell RT 6'6, 321 So. **** (5.9) 10 career starts
Mike Matulis LT 6'5, 264 Jr. *** (5.7) 10 career starts
Corey Robinson LT 6'8, 338 Jr. *** (5.6) 9 career starts
Cody Gibson RT 6'7, 284 Jr. *** (5.6) 6 career starts
Kyle Harris C 1 career start
Will Sport RG 6'5, 289 So. *** (5.5)
Kaleb Broome RG
Cody Waldrop C 6'2, 312 RSFr. *** (5.7)
Clayton Stadnik C 6'3, 283 RSFr. *** (5.5)
Mason Zandi LT 6'9, 287 RSFr. ** (5.4)
Brock Stadnik LG 6'5, 291 Fr. **** (5.8)
D.J. Park RG 6'4, 335 Fr. **** (5.8)
Na'Ty Rodgers OL 6'5, 278 Fr. **** (5.8)

Defense

Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 11 9 13 9
RUSHING 17 12 14 13
PASSING 21 10 13 10
Standard Downs 8 7 10
Passing Downs 15 22 14
Redzone 11 12 11
Q1 Rk 6 1st Down Rk 10
Q2 Rk 34 2nd Down Rk 20
Q3 Rk 4 3rd Down Rk 10
Q4 Rk 47

6. Hmm, I wonder why opponents tended to run a lot on passing downs…

Opponents played things straight on standard downs against South Carolina, running and passing with expected frequency. But on passing downs, they ran almost five percent more frequently than the national average. It's almost as if the Gamecocks had a pass rush opponents wanted to avoid or something.

Again, most of Jadeveon Clowney's help from last year is gone. Of the eight other players who sacked the quarterback at least twice in 2012, only two return. But the Clowney Effect makes it difficult to worry about that. End Chaz Sutton, who made nearly one-third of his tackles behind the line, does return; so does active, scary tackle Kelcy Quarles. Injuries could cause a pretty stark drop-off on the line, but the starting four should be as intimidating as almost any in the country.

7. Finish

One other hint that depth may have been an issue in 2012: South Carolina's defense was quite a bit worse in the second and fourth quarter than in the first and third. Again, this is a red flag considering how much South Carolina must replace from last year's two-deep. The second string on the defensive line will be extremely young, as will all strings at linebacker.

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 107.8 2.44 3.45 34.6% 66.7% 22.6% 178.3 7.3% 13.8%
Rank 33 10 86 19 50 22 2 9 2
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Jadeveon Clowney DE 6'6, 272 Jr. ***** (6.1) 12 47.0 6.7% 23.5 13 0 2 3 1
Devin Taylor DE 13 36.0 5.2% 8.5 3 0 6 0 1
Byron Jerideau DT 13 32.5 4.7% 5.5 2.5 0 0 0 0
Kelcy Quaries DT 6'4, 293 Jr. **** (5.9) 12 30.5 4.4% 8 3.5 0 0 0 0
Chaz Sutton DE 6'5, 256 Jr. **** (5.9) 13 23.0 3.3% 7 5 0 1 2 0
Aldrick Fordham DE 13 18.0 2.6% 6.5 5.5 0 0 2 0
J.T. Surratt DT 6'2, 311 Jr. ** (5.4) 10 11.5 1.6% 2.5 0.5 0 0 0 0
Gerald Dixon, Jr. DT 6'3, 318 So. *** (5.5) 12 6.5 0.9% 0 0 1 1 0 0
Phillip Dukes DT 6'3, 315 So. **** (5.8) 5 3.0 0.4% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Mason Harris DE 6'3, 215 So. *** (5.6) 6 3.0 0.4% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Darius English DE 6'6, 225 RSFr. *** (5.7) 2 2.5 0.4% 0.5 0 0 0 0 0
Gerald Dixon DE 6'2, 275 So. *** (5.7) 4 2.0 0.3% 1 1 0 0 0 0
Deon Green DT 6'4, 283 So. *** (5.6)
Kelsey Griffin DT 6'2, 282 Fr. **** (5.9)






Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Shaq Wilson WLB 13 65.5 9.4% 4.5 2 2 1 2 1
Reginald Bowens MLB 13 47.5 6.8% 1.5 1 0 1 3 2
DeVonte Holloman SPUR 13 47.0 6.7% 8 2 3 4 2 0
Quin Smith WLB 12 37.5 5.4% 4 2 0 0 0 0
Damario Jeffery MLB 13 20.0 2.9% 3.5 0 0 1 0 0
Jordan Diggs SPUR 6'0, 197 RSFr. **** (5.8) 2 4.5 0.6% 1 0 0 0 0 0
Sharrod Golightly SPUR 5'10, 179 Jr. *** (5.6) 8 3.0 0.4% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Kaiwan Lewis MLB 6'0, 221 So. *** (5.7) 11 2.5 0.4% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Cedrick Cooper WLB 6'2, 215 So. *** (5.6) 11 1.0 0.1% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Marcquis Roberts WLB 6'1, 215 So. *** (5.7)

Kelvin Rainey WLB 6'3, 228 RSFr. *** (5.7)
T.J. Holloman MLB 6'2, 215 RSFr. *** (5.6)
Larenz Bryant LB 6'1, 215 Fr. **** (5.9)
Skai Moore LB 6'2, 210 Fr. **** (5.8)






8. How do you avoid regression?

South Carolina's defensive line was as aggressive as they come, but it was only good, not great, against the run. The Gamecocks did rank just 33rd in Adj. Line Yards, showing some lapses on passing downs rushing (draw plays and scrambles against an ears-pinned-back pass rush) and defending short-yardage situations at something less than an elite level. But a fantastic set of experienced linebackers cleaned up messes and allowed the line to remain aggressive.

Can a unit made up almost entirely of freshmen, redshirt freshmen, and sophomores play at the same level? Probably not. And if the linebackers are struggling at times, South Carolina could find itself falling victim to even more passing downs rushes and short passes that go for longer gains. You might be able to make South Carolina pay for its aggressiveness a bit more in 2013.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
D.J. Swearinger FS 12 70.5 10.1% 3 0 2 7 2 2
Brison Williams SS 5'11, 205 Jr. *** (5.7) 13 47.5 6.8% 1.5 1 2 4 1 1
Jimmy Legree CB 6'0, 185 Sr. *** (5.5) 13 39.5 5.7% 1 0 3 6 0 0
Victor Hampton CB 5'10, 197 Jr. **** (5.9) 13 31.5 4.5% 3 1 1 6 0 0
Akeem Auguste CB 8 15.0 2.1% 0 0 1 2 0 1
T.J. Gurley FS 5'10, 183 So. *** (5.6) 8 10.5 1.5% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Ahmad Christian CB 5'10, 189 So. *** (5.7) 12 7.5 1.1% 0 0 0 2 0 0
Kadetrix Marcus FS 6'1, 185 Jr. *** (5.7) 12 4.5 0.6% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Sidney Rhodes CB 5'10, 167 Jr. NR 12 4.0 0.6% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Chaz Elder FS 6'2, 194 RSFr. **** (5.8) 0.0 0.0%
Rico McWilliams CB 5'11, 178 RSFr. *** (5.7) 0.0 0.0%
Kyle Fleetwood SS 5'11, 214 RSFr. *** (5.7) 0.0 0.0%
Chris Moody SS 6'1, 210 RSFr. *** (5.6) 0.0 0.0%
Ronnie Martin CB 5'11, 173 Jr. *** (5.7) 0.0 0.0%
Pharoh Cooper CB 5'11, 190 Fr. **** (5.8)






Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Tyler Hull 6'2, 212 Jr. 54 39.4 5 22 12 63.0%
Patrick Fish 6'0, 194 Jr. 3 35.0 0 2 1 100.0%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB TB%
Adam Yates 62 62.5 33 53.2%
Landon Ard 5'9, 189 So. 13 62.2 3 23.1%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2013
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Adam Yates 49-49 8-11 72.7% 3-6 50.0%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Bruce Ellington KR 5'9, 197 Jr. 18 22.6 0
Damiere Byrd KR 5'9, 168 Jr. 2 11.0 0
Akeem Auguste KR 2 28.0 0
Ace Sanders PR 28 15.3 2
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 86
Net Punting 78
Net Kickoffs 47
Touchback Pct 25
Field Goal Pct 86
Kick Returns Avg 62
Punt Returns Avg 10

9. Ace Sanders was terrifying

Does Ace Sanders have bones? Because it certainly seemed like he was carrying at least 170 pounds of muscle on his 175-pound frame. With the ball in his hands, Sanders was full of piss, vinegar, and a little more piss, showing an unfair combination of agility and strength that was good for South Carolina's passing game and great for South Carolina's return game and field position battles. Bruce Ellington exceeded Sanders' capabilities in the passing game at times; can he (or anybody else) approximate what Sanders brought to the table in punt returns?

Punting and place-kicking made this a pretty average special teams unit overall; special teams becomes an outright liability if Sanders' production cannot be at least somewhat replicated.

2013 Schedule & Projection Factors

2013 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. Rk
31-Aug North Carolina 32
7-Sep at Georgia 9
14-Sep Vanderbilt 49
28-Sep at Central Florida 54
5-Oct Kentucky 90
12-Oct at Arkansas 37
19-Oct at Tennessee 44
26-Oct at Missouri 39
2-Nov Mississippi State 51
16-Nov Florida 4
23-Nov Coastal Carolina NR
30-Nov Clemson 21
Five-Year F/+ Rk 20
Two-Year Recruiting Rk 16
TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin* +4 / +12.1
TO Luck/Game -3.1
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 12 (7, 5)
Yds/Pt Margin** -5.4

10. Wait, just two Top 20 opponents? Is that right? And no November road games?

To an extent, I think I understand what The Sporting News saw in ranking South Carolina No. 3 in the country. Connor Shaw is a strong "if healthy" quarterback (even though it doesn't seem he's actually healthy that much). The Carolina run game could be in good hands with Mike Davis. A secondary that was banged up last year now has quite a bit of experience. Jadeveon Clowney is Jadeveon Clowney. And perhaps most importantly, the schedule is strangely manageable. South Carolina will play only four teams currently projected in the Top 35, and three must visit Columbia.

If South Carolina is ever going to make a run toward the national title game, it will probably be in 2013, with a manageable schedule and Clowney still in uniform. But I just don't trust the Gamecocks enough to predict that. The early trip to Georgia will test a defense that is still breaking in new pieces, and I don't see South Carolina surviving a three-week October road trip against three competent, potentially interesting teams (Arkansas, Tennessee, Missouri) without at least one upset loss. I certainly see the Gamecocks winning double-digit games for the third straight year -- and for a school that had done so only once before 2011, that is a feat that shouldn't be taken for granted -- but I don't see them threatening for the national title.

Of course, if Mike Davis is the real deal, and the linebackers hold up against Georgia on September 7, I might be changing my tune...

More from SB Nation:

Why did Bret Bielema go after a FSU coach on Twitter?

Bill Connelly on the never, ever boring Ole Miss Rebels

Wait, how fast is Braxton Miller?

The college football Twitter directory

National recruiting coverage

Today’s college football news headlines

In This Article

Teams
Players
X
Log In Sign Up

forgot?
Log In Sign Up

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.

Join SBNation.com

You must be a member of SBNation.com to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at SBNation.com. You should read them.

Join SBNation.com

You must be a member of SBNation.com to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at SBNation.com. You should read them.

Spinner.vc97ec6e

Authenticating

Great!

Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.