Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.
1. Experience vs. star power
Your chosen SEC East winner says a lot about you. If you select Georgia, you value star power and high ceilings; you see Todd Gurley blazing downfield and a front seven with Leonard Floyd and Jordan Jenkins making enough plays to counteract a (better-coached) young secondary.
If you select South Carolina, you're all about depth, experience, and high floors over upside. The Gamecocks must replace Connor Shaw, Bruce Ellington, Jadeveon Clowney, and Kelcy Quarles -- a.k.a. four of their five best players from last year -- but return virtually everybody else of consequence: the top three running backs, every receiving target other than Ellington, seven offensive linemen with starting experience, every linebacker, four of the top six defensive backs, and virtually the team's entire second string from 2013.
(South Carolina also gets Georgia at home, which could further tip the scales.)
Running back Mike Davis does give South Carolina one household name (or at least, it would be a household name if it weren't "Mike Davis"), but for the most part South Carolina is going with quantity over individual quality. And honestly, it'll probably work.
He's been awful quiet. That means he must think they're pretty good. We're going to have our work cut out for us going there the first game.
Granted, Steve Spurrier hasn't been that quiet this offseason -- he's found time to throw plenty of smirking jabs at Clemson's Dabo Swinney, Alabama's Nick Saban, A&M's Kevin Sumlin, etc. -- but Sumlin said what a lot of people have been thinking: Spurrier knows his team's pretty loaded.
His offense has a question mark at quarterback, where Dylan Thompson was decent in filling in for frequently injured Connor Shaw through the years but didn't inspire "that guy might win the SEC one day" confidence. He needs to unearth some new play-makers at defensive end and corner pretty quickly. Still, those and a perpetually shaky special teams unit are the only question marks, and while those issues might prevent the 'Cocks from becoming a national title contender, the list of problems isn't any longer than Georgia's.
Georgia has the same quarterback narrative -- only, Thompson has thrown more often and effectively than Hutson Mason through the years. And in Mike Davis, South Carolina has a junior running back only slightly less proven (but more durable) than Todd Gurley. Bruce Ellington is gone, but back are nine players who averaged 8.1 yards per passing target. The offensive line is enormous, physical, and experienced. The linebackers survived as freshmen and sophomores last year and are ready to thrive. The safeties are deep and experienced. And special teams at least isn't going to be any worse, I think.
South Carolina ranked 10th in the F/+ rankings last year and has been 14th or better in three of the last four years. It feels strange talking about a potential breakthrough after the program's best-ever defensive end and maybe quarterback both walked out the door. But depth can cure what ails you, and South Carolina's got a ton of it.
2013 Schedule & Results
|Record: 11-2 | Adj. Record: 13-0 | Final F/+ Rk: 10|
|Date||Opponent||Opp. F/+ Rk||Score||W-L||Adj. Score||Adj. W-L||5-gm Adj. Avg.|
|29-Aug||North Carolina||38||27-10||W||39.6 - 13.6||W|
|7-Sep||at Georgia||22||30-41||L||41.5 - 31.0||W|
|14-Sep||Vanderbilt||50||35-25||W||43.4 - 26.0||W|
|28-Sep||at Central Florida||21||28-25||W||37.5 - 29.4||W|
|5-Oct||Kentucky||97||35-28||W||37.1 - 34.1||W||13.0|
|12-Oct||at Arkansas||87||52-7||W||33.1 - 30.0||W||8.4|
|19-Oct||at Tennessee||72||21-23||L||22.8 - 21.3||W||6.6|
|26-Oct||at Missouri||14||27-24||W||31.7 - 18.2||W||5.8|
|2-Nov||Mississippi State||33||34-16||W||30.7 - 25.7||W||5.2|
|16-Nov||Florida||48||19-14||W||27.9 - 26.3||W||5.0|
|23-Nov||Coastal Carolina||N/A||70-10||W||48.9 - 26.5||W||8.8|
|30-Nov||Clemson||16||31-17||W||27.5 - 25.9||W||8.8|
|1-Jan||vs. Wisconsin||19||34-24||W||52.4 - 23.1||W||12.0|
|Points Per Game||34.1||32||20.3||12|
|Adj. Points Per Game||36.5||15||25.5||42|
3. The dreaded mid-season blip
Twelve to 14 weeks is a long time. Even some of the best teams in the country have to fight their way throughs a slight funk or two through the course of a season. For South Carolina, that blip began with a trip to Orlando and ended with a trip to Knoxville. The Gamecocks almost survived it without permanent damage, but in the end an upset loss to Tennessee cost them a spot in the SEC Championship game.
- Adj. Points Per Game (first 3 games): S.C. 41.5, Opponent 23.5 (plus-18.0)
- Adj. Points Per Game (next 4 games): S.C. 32.6, Opponent 28.7 (plus-3.9)
- Adj. Points Per Game (last 6 games): S.C. 36.5, Opponent 24.3 (plus-12.2)f
Connor Shaw, who was rarely full-strength during his successful career, suffered injuries against both UCF and Tennessee (and missed a portion of the Missouri game as well), and the South Carolina offense went from great to good when he was struggling. But the defense also suffered a brief dip in form around that time, and it was just enough to get upset.
Down the stretch, the Gamecocks rebounded a bit. They handed Missouri its only regular season loss, and while they weren't amazing in wins over Mississippi State and Florida, they got the job done. Then they finished an 11-2 campaign with a win over Clemson and a phenomenal showing against a good Wisconsin team in the bowl, and they nabbed a top-five poll finish and a program-high No. 10 F/+ ranking.
(F/+ only goes back to 2005, so that's not necessarily saying, "THIS WAS THE BEST SOUTH CAROLINA TEAM EVER". Then again, it really might have been.)
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||46.4%||29||Succ. Rt. +||116.0||16|
|FIELD POSITION||Def. Avg. FP||30.8||89||Def. FP+||101.4||41|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||5.0||8||Redzone S&P+||112.6||22|
|Q1 Rk||13||1st Down Rk||11|
|Q2 Rk||18||2nd Down Rk||22|
|Q3 Rk||6||3rd Down Rk||18|
Note: players in bold below are 2014 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Dylan Thompson||6'3, 218||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||52||89||783||4||3||58.4%||3||3.3%||8.3|
|Connor Mitch||6'3, 227||RSFr.||4 stars (5.8)|
4. Life without the efficiency masters
South Carolina had some big-play ability on offense. Mike Davis had 29 rushes of 10+ yards, Bruce Ellington averaged 15.8 yards per catch, Damiere Byrd averaged 14.7, and Shaq Roland averaged 18.2. And while his completion rate was lower than Connor Shaw's and his interception rate was higher, Dylan Thompson did average 15.1 yards per completion, a very high average for anyone with a better than 50 percent completion rate.
So yeah, the big plays were there. But efficiency was still the primary strength of the Gamecocks' offense; they stayed on schedule, avoided turnovers (Shaw's one interception in 284 passes is absurd), and finished drives.
Much of the efficiency was derived from the pass (fifth in Passing Success Rate+, 38th in Rushing Success Rate+). And much of that was due to Shaw-to-Ellington. Of the 47 players with at least 60 targets and a catch rate of 70 percent or better, only eight averaged better than 15.5 yards per catch, and only four were their team's No. 1 targets (likely getting covered by No. 1 cornerbacks): Kansas State's Tyler Lockett, San Jose State's Chandler Jones, Illinois' Steve Hull (the exception that proves the rule, I guess), and Ellington. Ellington was a rare weapon, and it hurts losing him and Shaw. However...
...when that's all you lose, you can overcome it. Thompson at least took fewer sacks than Shaw, and while his completion rate was lower, it was only five percent lower in 2013. (It was 15 points lower in 2012, so ... progress!)
Thompson has plenty of potential in 2014, but the biggest problem he had in 2013 was that he was a completely different quarterback from week to week. Against Vanderbilt, Arkansas, and Coastal Carolina, he was 19-for-25 (78 percent) for 253 yards, three touchdowns, and one pick. Against UCF and Missouri he was 30-for-59 for 483 yards, no scores, and two interceptions. It was the same story in 2012: 9-for-23 against Florida and Arkansas, 30-for-51 against Clemson and Michigan.
Shaw-esque one week, terribly all-or-nothing the next. If Thompson can find a level of steadiness, he'll be just fine, especially considering that Byrd, Nick Jones, Shaq Roland, and Rory Anderson are back and Mike Davis is one of the two or three best out-of-the-backfield pass-catchers in college football.
|Mike Davis||RB||5'9, 215||Jr.||4 stars (5.9)||203||1183||11||5.8||6.3||40.4%|
|Shon Carson||RB||5'8, 219||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||61||256||1||4.2||4.4||27.9%|
|Brandon Wilds||RB||6'2, 223||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||43||221||3||5.1||2.9||46.5%|
|Pharoh Cooper||WR||5'11, 184||So.||4 stars (5.8)||20||202||1||10.1||11.7||50.0%|
|Jamari Smith||CB||5'10, 183||So.||3 stars (5.7)||14||108||1||7.7||12.1||35.7%|
|Dylan Thompson||QB||6'3, 218||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||13||51||3||3.9||2.3||38.5%|
|David Williams||RB||6'1, 200||RSFr.||4 stars (5.8)|
5. Built for a beating
Granted, he slowed down at the end of the season, sitting out the Coastal Carolina game and gaining just 71 yards in 24 carries against Clemson and Wisconsin, but Davis both issued and received beatings. Combining rushes and targets, he was the recipient of 20.4 intended touches per game and gained 6.2 yards per intended touch and 127.1 yards per game. He's short but sturdy, and while his running style ensures that he will get banged up along the way, he's a human Success Rate, Ellington or no Ellington.
He's got help, too; Shon Carson and Brandon Wilds are good for eight to 10 carries per game, and redshirt freshman David Williams should factor in as well. Even if Thompson isn't as reliable as Shaw, he's got a wealth of weapons around him, and the most important one will be lining up next to him.
|Damiere Byrd||WR||5'9, 166||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||61||33||575||54.1%||16.5%||60.3%||9.4||137||9.8||103.2|
|Nick Jones||WR||5'7, 174||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||43||27||281||62.8%||11.6%||57.1%||6.5||-50||6.7||50.4|
|Mike Davis||RB||5'9, 215||Jr.||4 stars (5.9)||42||34||342||81.0%||11.4%||43.9%||8.1||-27||7.9||61.4|
|Shaq Roland||WR||6'1, 190||Jr.||4 stars (5.9)||40||25||455||62.5%||10.8%||68.4%||11.4||148||11.2||81.6|
|Rory Anderson||TE||6'5, 242||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||39||17||245||43.6%||10.5%||39.5%||6.3||-10||5.9||44.0|
|Jerell Adams||TE||6'6, 237||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||18||13||187||72.2%||4.9%||53.3%||10.4||38||10.7||33.6|
|Brandon Wilds||RB||6'2, 223||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||14||9||119||64.3%||3.8%||69.2%||8.5||10||9.3||21.4|
|Shamier Jeffery||WR||6'1, 207||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||11||6||32||54.5%||3.0%||50.0%||2.9||-47||1.6||5.7|
|Kane Whitehurst||WR||5'11, 179||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||6||4||66||66.7%||1.6%||100.0%||11.0||18||5.4||11.8|
|Shon Carson||RB||5'8, 219||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||6||5||59||83.3%||1.6%||60.0%||9.8||5||9.5||10.6|
|Pharoh Cooper||WR||5'11, 184||So.||4 stars (5.8)||5||3||54||60.0%||1.4%||100.0%||10.8||16||3.3||9.7|
|Kwinton Smith||WR||6'4, 212||So.||3 stars (5.7)||5||5||42||100.0%||1.4%||100.0%||8.4||-8||4.4||7.5|
|K.J. Brent||WR||6'4, 188||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||2||2||13||100.0%||0.5%||100.0%||6.5||-7||5.0||2.3|
|Kevin Crosby||TE||6'1, 230||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)|
|Terry Googer||WR||6'4, 210||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)|
|Tyshun Samuel||WR||6'0, 192||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Shaq Davidson||WR||5'11, 170||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|A.J. Cann||LG||6'4, 311||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||38|
|Brandon Shell||RT||6'6, 333||Jr.||4 stars (5.9)||23|
|Corey Robinson||LT||6'8, 344||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||22|
|Mike Matulis||RG||6'5, 307||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||10|
|Clayton Stadnik||C||6'3, 273||So.||3 stars (5.5)||7|
|Cody Waldrop||C||6'2, 309||So.||3 stars (5.7)||6|
|Mason Zandi||LT||6'9, 301||So.||2 stars (5.4)||1|
|Brock Stadnik||LG||6'5, 294||So.||4 stars (5.8)||0|
|Will Sport||RG||6'5, 301||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0|
|Cody Gibson||RT||6'7, 288||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0|
|D.J. Park||RG||6'4, 334||RSFr.||4 stars (5.8)|
|Na'Ty Rodgers||RT||6'5, 296||RSFr.||4 stars (5.8)|
|Alan Knott||C||6'4, 272||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Donell Stanley||OL||6'4, 346||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)|
|Malik Young||OL||6'3, 318||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)|
6. Stats vs. eyeballs
If you pass the eyeball test, and the guy you're blocking for is doing well, we just pretty much assume that you're a pretty good offensive line. Well, Mike Davis thrived, and the S.C. line is simply enormous -- the seven returnees with starting experience average 6'5, 311, and that's including relative dwarf Clayton Stadnik. (The other six average 6'6, 318.)
It's a little bit confusing, then, to see that South Carolina ranked only 37th in Adj. Line Yards. But the Gamecocks weren't as good in short-yardage situations as one would think with this (and Davis') size, and the efficiency numbers were only good overall, not great. The line kept defenders out of the backfield against the run and gave Thompson in particular enough time to pass, but perhaps there's still some room for improvement.
The good news: lines that have seven returnees with starting experience indeed tend to improve.
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||40.8%||47||Succ. Rt. +||110.6||26|
|FIELD POSITION||Off. Avg. FP||29.8||72||Off. FP+||104.6||15|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||3.7||13||Redzone S&P+||106.6||38|
|Q1 Rk||16||1st Down Rk||12|
|Q2 Rk||36||2nd Down Rk||30|
|Q3 Rk||14||3rd Down Rk||64|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|J.T. Surratt||DT||6'2, 307||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||13||26.0||3.9%||4.0||1.5||0||0||0||0|
|Gerald Dixon, Jr.||DT||6'3, 325||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||12||21.5||3.2%||3.0||0.5||0||0||0||0|
|Darius English||DE||6'6, 235||So.||3 stars (5.7)||13||16.5||2.5%||2.5||0.5||0||0||1||0|
|Phillip Dukes||DT||6'3, 315||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||13||10.5||1.6%||1.5||0.0||0||0||1||0|
|Kelsey Griffin||DT||6'2, 292||So.||4 stars (5.9)||9||9.5||1.4%||0.5||0.5||0||0||0||0|
|Mason Harris||DE||6'3, 218||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||12||4.0||0.6%||1.0||1.0||0||0||0||0|
|Cedrick Cooper||DE||6'2, 213||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||10||4.0||0.6%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Gerald Dixon (2012)||DE||6'2, 274||So.||3 stars (5.7)||4||2.0||0.3%||1.0||1.0||0||0||0||0|
|Deon Green||DT||6'4, 287||So.||3 stars (5.6)||2||2.0||0.3%||1.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Devin Washington||DE||6'3, 225||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|David Johnson||DE||6'1, 275||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Abu Lamin||DT||6'4, 302||So.||4 stars (5.8)|
|Blake McClain||DE||6'3, 265||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Taylor Stallworth||DT||6'2, 293||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)|
7. More replaceable than you think?
Ask a casual college football fan to name two defenders from last year's South Carolina team, and they would probably name Jadeveon Clowney and Kelcy Quarles. Ask them to name a third, and if they came up with one, it would probably be either corner Victor Hampton or end Chaz Sutton. A majority of the star power for South Carolina's defense, it seemed, was up front.
But look at the numbers above: South Carolina was 35th in Rushing S&P+ but 42nd in Adj. Line Yards, 14th in Passing S&P+ but 31st in Adj. Sack Rate. From a stat perspective, it would almost seem as if the South Carolina line was more attackable than other parts of the defense.
Now, this could lead to a discussion about either the limitations of line stats or the importance of game-planning -- opponents schemed to take Clowney out of the game as much as possible. And no matter what the advanced stats say, the trio up front still recorded 33.5 tackles for loss. They were still effective.
But you could make the case that losing Clowney, Quarles, and Sutton won't hurt as much as we might think, especially with the returning talent in uniform. First of all, you've got perhaps the deepest linebacking corps in the SEC East. A perceived liability a year ago because of youth, S.C. linebackers came through with six players making at least 20.5 tackles, six making at least 3.5 tackles for loss, and three defensing at least three passes. If opponents were indeed scheming against Clowney and Quarles, the linebackers made them pay for this.
Meanwhile, while there are almost no proven entities up front, there is beef, and there are recruiting rankings. Tackles Gerald Dixon, Jr., and Phillip Dukes go 640 pounds combined, end Darius English made some plays in reserve time last year, and there are three former four-star recruits and six high-three-stars in the list above. So if the big three were more replaceable than we thought, and the level of overall experience is strong, this front seven will probably be pretty solid.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Skai Moore||WLB||6'2, 210||So.||4 stars (5.8)||13||43.0||6.5%||3.5||0.5||4||0||0||0|
|Kaiwan Lewis||MLB||6'0, 235||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||12||42.5||6.4%||4.0||1.0||2||0||1||0|
|Marcquis Roberts||MLB||6'1, 211||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||13||39.5||5.9%||3.5||1.5||0||2||1||0|
|Sharrod Golightly||SPUR||5'10, 205||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||13||38.5||5.8%||6.0||1.5||0||4||0||2|
|T.J. Holloman||MLB||6'2, 233||So.||3 stars (5.6)||13||36.0||5.4%||5.0||1.0||3||1||0||0|
|Jordan Diggs||SPUR||6'0, 221||So.||4 stars (5.8)||13||20.5||3.1%||4.0||0.0||0||1||0||0|
|Jonathan Walton||WLB||6'0, 234||So.||3 stars (5.7)||13||6.5||1.0%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Larenz Bryant||SPUR||6'0, 215||So.||4 stars (5.9)||12||6.0||0.9%||1.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Bryson Allen-Williams||LB||6'1, 231||Fr.||4 stars (5.9)|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Brison Williams||SS||5'11, 208||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||12||38.5||5.8%||0.5||0||1||3||0||0|
|T.J. Gurley||FS||5'10, 196||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||13||25.5||3.8%||0.5||0||1||1||0||0|
|Chaz Elder||FS||6'2, 199||So.||4 stars (5.8)||12||24.5||3.7%||0.5||0||1||1||0||0|
|Kadetrix Marcus||SS||6'1, 195||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||12||20.5||3.1%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Sidney Rhodes||CB||5'10, 167||Sr.||NR||13||6.0||0.9%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Chris Moody||SS||6'1, 212||So.||3 stars (5.6)||12||5.5||0.8%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Jamari Smith||CB||5'10, 183||So.||3 stars (5.7)||9||1.5||0.2%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Rico McWilliams||CB||5'11, 187||So.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Jasper Sasser||FS||6'0, 192||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Ali Groves||CB||5'10, 184||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Wesley Green||CB||5'10, 176||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)|
|Chris Lammons||CB||5'10, 172||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)|
|D.J. Smith||CB||5'11, 189||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)|
|Al Harris, Jr.||CB||5'11, 162||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)|
8. Opponents knew to run last year; will that be the case again?
The Threat of Clowney helped get into opponents' head on passing downs, so even if South Carolina's sack rates were only good and not great (especially on passing downs), you knew opposing quarterbacks were hearing footsteps, real or imaginary. His loss will certainly hurt in that regard. But the secondary also made plenty of plays with or without Clowney's help, to the extent that opponents leaned heavily on the ground game to find success.
That the secondary was so successful and underrated in 2013 is both a good and a bad thing right now. South Carolina might have the best safety tandem in the East, but last year's top three cornerbacks are all gone. Again, there are a lot of exciting prospects to throw at this problem, including four exciting true freshmen. Plus, while Brison Williams is listed as a safety above, he has corner experience and will likely be a starter, albeit a beefy, 208-pound starter. If one of the freshmen thrives, then there will be enough experience around him to account for his random mistakes. But there's no question that it's hard to see the pass defense as a whole working out quite as well without Legree, Hampton, and Clowney's footsteps.
|Tyler Hull||6'2, 206||Sr.||46||37.8||2||15||10||54.3%|
|Landon Ard||5'9, 172||Jr.||83||61.7||36||5||43.4%|
|Elliott Fry||6'0, 150||So.||54-55||9-10||90.0%||6-8||75.0%|
|Pharoh Cooper||KR||5'11, 184||So.||16||22.4||0|
|Shon Carson||KR||5'8, 219||Jr.||8||17.8||0|
|Pharoh Cooper||PR||5'11, 184||So.||9||4.4||0|
|Victor Hampton||PR||5'10, 202||Sr.||9||3.0||0|
|Special Teams F/+||114|
|Field Goal Efficiency||40|
|Punt Return Efficiency||114|
|Kick Return Efficiency||125|
|Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency||38|
9. Wanted: return men
Over the last five years, South Carolina has ranked 94th, 75th, 112th, 86th, and 114th, respectively, in Special Teams F/+. It has been a consistent problem for Spurrier and the Gamecocks, and while their overall field position numbers were still pretty decent, they could have been so much better with competent special teams.
Elliott Fry was a solid place-kicker, especially for a freshman, and Tyler Hull's punting was a strength. But kickoffs were an issue, and returns were almost non-existent. Pharoh Cooper came in with a big return-man reputation, but he'll either need to start backing that up or cede that role to somebody else. (That, or his blocking needs to improve drastically.)
South Carolina has too many issues to be a serious national title contender, but strong special teams can cover some issues up. Awful special teams just exacerbate them.
2014 Schedule & Projection Factors
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||20.2% (14)|
|Two-Year Recruiting Rk||16|
|TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||13 / 3.8|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||14 (8, 6)|
10. The power of "Sandstorm"
South Carolina is not without its flaws. The Gamecocks are starting over at cornerback and defensive end, and while there is a wealth of experience on offense, the offense's two best players from last year are still gone, and the new starting quarterback hasn't proven he can play consistent ball from week to week yet. This is not a slam-dunk top-10 team and East favorite.
Now that that's out of the way: I think South Carolina will be a top-10 team and should absolutely be the East favorite. First of all, the Gamecocks host Georgia and last year's East champion. And only one of the four conference road games comes against a projected top-25 team (Auburn). From a pure scheduling standpoint, S.C. seems to have the edge here. So if the 'Cocks are good at home (like they were last year), and if they can avoid a random road slip-up, the odds are in their favor.
This year's Football Outsiders Almanac 2014 projects Spurrier's Gamecocks fifth overall, thanks to consistent recent play and stellar experience. They are projected to go 10-2 with a 51 percent chance of winning the division and a 15 percent chance of winning the SEC. There's a 26 percent chance they go 11-2 or better and only a 15 percent chance they go 8-4 or worse. These are aggressive projections, question marks be damned, and I understand why. Few teams have this level of experience, and only one has Steve Spurrier coaching it. Quiet or loud, Spurrier has a chance to do something awfully special this year. And if the 'Cocks play well at home, they'll put themselves in stellar position.