clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Steve Spurrier's South Carolina is probably in better shape than you think

New, comments

Does the greatest coach in Gamecocks history have another surprise up his sleeve?

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.

1. Swing and a miss

I tend to think of preseason stat projections as being knowledgeable advisors. I don't have to agree with them, but I know they're based in sound principles (in S&P+'s case, those are each program's long-term success, recruiting, and returning experience) and they're not going to overreact to a single performance, be it a great bowl game, a bad conference title game, etc.

I can always point to a few projections I disagree with. For instance, in the upcoming Football Outsiders Almanac 2015, our F/+ projections have UCLA fifth and TCU 15th. That feels too high and too low, respectively. But even if I think both should be about 10th, it's a reminder that we might not be taking UCLA seriously enough and that TCU's preseason résumé isn't as sound as we might think.

That said, I completely bought what the numbers were telling me last year about Steve Spurrier's Gamecocks. Last year's F/+ projections placed them fifth nationally and gave them a 50-50 chance of winning the SEC East. They had about a 15 percent chance of winning eight or fewer games.

As I wrote in this year's UCLA preview, there's a balance between depth and star power that we often get wrong. We notice that three stars have left (especially if one's a quarterback or a top draft pick), and we ignore that almost all of the other 41 members of the two-deep return. South Carolina had a proven track record (41 wins and three F/+ top-10 finishes in four years), solid recruiting (two-year recruiting ranking heading into 2014: 16th), and 14 returning starters. They had lost quarterback Connor Shaw, both starting cornerbacks, and star linemen Jadeveon Clowney and Kelcy Quarles. Still, they returned an experienced backup quarterback, a star running back, almost every receiver and offensive lineman, every linebacker, and every safety. Almost all of 2013's second string was back.

And South Carolina went 7-6. The offense held up (11th in Off. S&P+ in 2013, 21st in 2014), but the defense fell apart due to an outmanned front (20th in S&P+ in 2013, 71st in 2014), and the Gamecocks let four SEC games slip away in the fourth quarter. It was Spurrier's most frustrating season in years and prompted questions about everything from his coaching staff to his retirement date.

Whoops.

2. Let's not pretend this team is hopeless

No matter how this ends, Spurrier's tenure at South Carolina will be regarded as a success. A national title winner at Florida, Spurrier came to Columbia in 2005, inheriting a program that had been to 10 bowls since World War II. Predecessor Lou Holtz, also a legendary coach, had managed two bowls and three winning seasons in six years. Fan support had long hinted at growth, but it remained untapped.

In 10 seasons, Spurrier has reached nine bowls and has never finished with a below-.500 record. He lost either five or six games in each of his first six years, but a few huge recruiting wins led to a breakthrough. From 2011-13, the Gamecocks went 33-6 with the first three top-10 poll finishes in program history. (South Carolina's previous high finish was 11th in 1984, a 2007-esque season of oddity and adventure.)

Last year's backslide was frustrating for a couple of reasons. First, the Gamecocks began with East division hopes and, despite a demoralizing season-opening defeat against Texas A&M, took down Georgia early to keep those hopes alive. And then they figured out ways to lose in closing stages. The defense was perhaps the least disruptive in the country, lending to concerns about this post-Clowney universe.

And as Bud Elliott explained, a casual Spurrier remark about retirement has been used against him in recruiting. The future of this program is in doubt in a way we didn't foresee 12 months ago.

But let's not overstate the direness. While a final F/+ ranking of 38th is far worse than projected, this wasn't Michigan slipping to 54th or Oklahoma State falling to 75th. And while recruiting may have taken some dings, Spurrier signed a top-20 class in February. There's no question that it's a long road back to top-10 finishes, but this is still a top-40 team with top-20 potential. As with East-mates Florida, Tennessee, and Missouri, the Gamecocks' ceiling in 2015 will be set by newcomers and recent star recruits, and while you never want to rely on newcomers to determine your fate, it can still work.

South Carolina is far from the proven entity I thought I saw a year ago, but the Gamecocks should be better than most of their pre-Spurrier iterations. That's something, at least.

2014 Schedule & Results

Record: 7-6 | Adj. Record: 9-4 | Final F/+ Rk: 38
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Percentile
Performance
Adj. Scoring
Margin
Win
Expectancy
28-Aug Texas A&M 42 28-52 L 23% -17.0 1%
6-Sep East Carolina 61 33-23 W 85% 24.3 75%
13-Sep Georgia 4 38-35 W 80% 19.6 39%
20-Sep at Vanderbilt 115 48-34 W 73% 14.1 96%
27-Sep Missouri 20 20-21 L 73% 14.4 59%
4-Oct at Kentucky 68 38-45 L 44% -3.5 24%
18-Oct Furman N/A 41-10 W 79% 19.2 100%
25-Oct at Auburn 7 35-42 L 40% -6.1 4%
1-Nov Tennessee 24 42-45 L 64% 8.1 40%
15-Nov at Florida 32 23-20 W 60% 5.6 23%
22-Nov South Alabama 89 37-12 W 95% 37.6 100%
29-Nov at Clemson 14 17-35 L 27% -14.2 0%
27-Dec vs. Miami 31 24-21 W 90% 30.2 90%

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 36.9 21 29.0 71
Points Per Game 32.6 42 30.4 91

3. Good luck finding a trend

Their worst games were their first and second-to-last. Their best games came in two of the last three. They played well against one top-15 team (Georgia), played horribly against another (Clemson), and needed lucky breaks to stay close to another (Auburn).

From a trends perspective, there wasn't much that you could glean from South Carolina's 2014. Well, besides this:

  • Average Percentile Performance (home): 71% (~top 35 | average score: SC 34, Opp 28)
  • Average Percentile Performance (road): 49% (~top 65 | average score: Opp 35, SC 32)

Teams tend to end up about 15 percent better at home than on the road, so while SC's range between home and road is only slightly larger than normal, realize that it includes the season-opening dud against Texas A&M. Remove that, and the Gamecocks' home percentile average goes up to 79 percent.

South Carolina figured out a way to lose to Missouri and Tennessee at home, but the 'Cocks were still a solid, if unlucky, home team. But their defense went from shaky to awful on the road.

Tight wins over Georgia and Florida kept this season from going off the rails, while tight losses kept the Gamecocks from threatening 10 wins again.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.85 61 IsoPPP+ 125.6 23
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 45.4% 31 Succ. Rt. + 120.6 13
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 30.9 85 Def. FP+ 101.0 53
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.9 26 Redzone S&P+ 118.5 24
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 23.6 ACTUAL 21 -2.6
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 35 17 14 23
RUSHING 67 16 11 27
PASSING 21 19 13 22
Standard Downs 22 19 27
Passing Downs 11 8 13
Q1 Rk 11 1st Down Rk 10
Q2 Rk 30 2nd Down Rk 44
Q3 Rk 14 3rd Down Rk 11
Q4 Rk 33

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2015 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Dylan Thompson
270 451 3574 26 11 59.9% 25 5.3% 7.1
Connor Mitch 6'3, 211 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8867 2 6 19 0 0 33.3% 1 14.3% 1.3
Perry Orth 6'1, 203 Jr. NR NR 0 2 0 0 0 0.0% 1 33.3% -4.3
Michael Scarnecchia 6'4, 210 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8095
Lorenzo Nunez 6'2, 190 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8928

4. Got a QB?

South Carolina hasn't averaged fewer than 30 points per game since 2009. In that span, the Gamecocks have thrown for at least 3,000 yards, rushed for at least 2,000 yards, and ranked in the Off. S&P+ top 30 four times each.

They may have seen their streak of good defenses end in 2014, and they may have had some untimely failures, but this offense was just fine last fall, especially considering they lost starting quarterback Connor Shaw and leading receiver Bruce Ellington and star rusher Mike Davis struggled with nagging injuries.

Spurrier doesn't have bad offenses often, in other words. He hasn't had the sterling level of quarterback play that he had in his Florida days, but he almost always finds a competent one. And while he's not recruiting at a top-five level, he's got plenty of former four-star guys in the chamber.

Two quarterbacks are among that four-star list: sophomore Connor Mitch and freshman Lorenzo Nunez. Mitch is the perceived front-runner and seems to fit the prototype of a shotgun passer: solid arm, quick release, etc.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
Mike Davis TB
199 982 9 4.9 4.1 39.2% 3 2
Brandon Wilds TB 6'2, 216 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8223 106 570 4 5.4 4.8 45.3% 1 1
David Williams TB 6'1, 214 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9283 45 256 2 5.7 5.2 40.0% 1 1
Dylan Thompson QB
42 124 4 3.0 2.9 33.3% 5 3
Pharoh Cooper WR 5'11, 207 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8730 27 200 2 7.4 7.8 48.1% 4 0
Shon Carson TB 5'8, 204 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8875 18 141 2 7.8 9.8 44.4% 2 0
Damiere Byrd WR
7 57 0 8.1 4.7 71.4% 1 1
Connor Mitch QB 6'3, 211 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8867 2 7 0 3.5 0.5 50.0% 0 0
Connor McLaurin FB
Rivers Bedenbaugh
(Ga. Southern)
FB 6'2, 245 So. NR NR
A.J. Turner RB 5'10, 185 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8841
Mon Denson RB 5'10, 225 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8656







Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
%SD Yds/
Target
NEY Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Pharoh Cooper WR 5'11, 207 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8730 102 70 1152 68.6% 22.7% 57.8% 11.3 316 11.3 172.8
Nick Jones WR
62 42 504 67.7% 13.8% 62.9% 8.1 1 8.1 75.6
Damiere Byrd WR
49 20 318 40.8% 10.9% 69.4% 6.5 50 7.2 47.7
Rory Anderson TE
47 22 260 46.8% 10.4% 46.8% 5.5 -25 5.8 39.0
Shaq Roland WR
46 26 356 56.5% 10.2% 54.3% 7.7 34 7.9 53.4
Mike Davis TB
42 32 368 76.2% 9.3% 52.4% 8.8 -7 8.9 55.2
Jerell Adams TE 6'6, 231 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.9067 38 21 279 55.3% 8.4% 42.1% 7.3 17 7.3 41.8
Brandon Wilds TB 6'2, 216 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8223 24 18 143 75.0% 5.3% 45.8% 6.0 -69 6.4 21.5
K.J. Brent WR
13 9 111 69.2% 2.9% 38.5% 8.5 4 6.8 16.7
David Williams TB 6'1, 214 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9283 8 7 99 87.5% 1.8% 75.0% 12.4 19 10.5 14.9
Shon Carson TB 5'8, 204 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8875 6 5 40 83.3% 1.3% 33.3% 6.7 -18 7.7 6.0
Shamier Jeffery WR 6'1, 198 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8731 6 2 9 33.3% 1.3% 66.7% 1.5 -19 1.3 1.4
Carlton Heard WR 6'0, 182 Sr. NR NR
Clayton Stadnik TE 6'3, 240 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8434
Sean Odom WR 6'0, 194 Jr. NR NR
Matrick Belton WR 6'4, 209 Jr. NR NR
Kevin Crosby TE 6'1, 238 RSFr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8941
Terry Googer WR 6'4, 226 RSFr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8783
Shaq Davidson WR 5'11, 175 RSFr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.9188
Deebo Samuel WR 6'0, 202 RSFr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8483
Christian Owens WR 6'5, 204 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8894
Jalen Christian WR 5'9, 170 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9149
Dexter Neal WR 6'2, 195 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8727
Jerad Washington WR 5'8, 158 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8413

5. Got receivers?

South Carolina has a nice efficiency back in senior Brandon Wilds, who gained five yards on nearly half of his 2014 carries and caught three-quarters of the passes thrown his way. Plus, in sophomore back David Williams and longtime reserve Shon Carson, the Gamecocks might have some exciting explosiveness options in the backfield.

Still, without the more mobile Shaw, South Carolina threw more frequently than normal, especially on passing downs. Mitch isn't a statue, but he isn't known for his run prowess, so the run-pass rates might not change much, especially if the rebuilt line* isn't able to open as many holes.

That means Pharoh Cooper can expect 100-plus targets again. That also means a lot of young receivers will see opportunities.

Seven SC wideouts and tight ends were targeted at least 10 times last fall, but only two -- Cooper and tight end Jerell Adams -- are back. The other five combined for 17 targets and 119 yards per game. Those targets will now go to some combination of career reserves (senior Shamier Jeffery), walk-ons (Sean Odom, Carlton Heard, Matric Belton), a converted lineman (Stadnik) and glorious youth. Three redshirt freshmen were given a four-star designation by either Rivals or the 247Sports Composite, and a fourth (Deebo Samuel) was a standout in the spring. Plus, three more four-star true freshmen will look to join the mix.

If one or two of these can play well and another is competent, the passing game will probably be fine. But you never know that freshmen will step up until they do. I have long called Spurrier one of the nation's best at picking at opposing defense's weaknesses, and his offense could have just enough talent to pick away.

* Three-year starting guard (and potential All-SECer) Brandon Shell returns, as do five others with starting experience, and the Gamecocks boast 73 career starts in all. But the left side of the line is getting retooled, and center Clayton Stadnik has moved to tight end. There are still three potential senior starters, but a drop-off wouldn't be a total surprise.

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 113.2 3.07 3.19 41.5% 71.4% 19.7% 119.1 4.4% 6.6%
Rank 23 45 76 35 35 72 40 57 48
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Career Starts Honors/Notes
A.J. Cann LG 51 All-American, 2014 2nd All-SEC
Brandon Shell LT 6'6, 328 Sr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9525 36
Corey Robinson LT
35
Clayton Stadnik C/TE
13 Moved to tight end
Will Sport RG 6'5, 295 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8106 11
Mike Matulis RT 6'5, 293 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8634 10
Cody Waldrop LG 6'2, 300 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8795 8
Alan Knott C 6'4, 270 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8672 7
Mason Zandi RT 6'9, 314 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8161 1
Brock Stadnik RG 6'5, 285 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9313 0
D.J. Park LT 6'4, 325 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8999 0
Donell Stanley LG 6'4, 320 RSFr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9317
Malik Young LT 6'3, 308 RSFr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8615
Zack Bailey OL 6'5, 330 Fr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9045
Christian Pellage OL 6'6, 305 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.9007
Blake Camper OL 6'7, 295 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8544

SIGN UP FOR OUR COLLEGE FOOTBALL NEWSLETTER

Get all kinds of college football stories, rumors, game coverage, and Jim Harbaugh oddity in your inbox every day.

Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.85 68 IsoPPP+ 92.3 90
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 47.1% 118 Succ. Rt. + 87.1 115
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 29.2 88 Off. FP+ 100.0 65
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.5 78 Redzone S&P+ 86.2 119
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 17.4 ACTUAL 19.0 +1.6
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 94 104 109 90
RUSHING 107 109 107 112
PASSING 53 71 91 61
Standard Downs 111 109 105
Passing Downs 69 93 60
Q1 Rk 87 1st Down Rk 100
Q2 Rk 85 2nd Down Rk 87
Q3 Rk 86 3rd Down Rk 82
Q4 Rk 116

6. Hello, old friend

Okay, sometimes star power trumps depth. South Carolina returned basically seven of its top 10 linemen from 2013, but the three who departed -- ends Jadeveon Clowney and Chaz Sutton and tackle Kelcy Quarles, who combined for 33.5 tackles for loss, 15.5 sacks, five passes defensed, and three forced fumbles -- were of a different quality than the seven who returned.

Without this trio, South Carolina suddenly had one of the least effective fronts in football: 109th in Rushing S&P+, 105th in Adj. Line Yards, 110th in stuff rate, 120th in Adj. Sack Rate, 125th in passing downs sack rate. The entire line made barely as many plays as Clowney and Sutton had by themselves (and here's your reminder that Clowney's 2013 was deemed a disappointment). And with struggles like this up front, it isn't a surprise that the Gamecock defense got worse in the fourth quarter.

(The only reason the defense ranked 71st instead of much worse is that it created decent field position for its offense. Of course, that was due as much to the return game as anything the defense did.)

When production falls apart, it is almost certainly a talent issue. Coaching might not be up to snuff, but on-field personnel definitely isn't.

Spurrier took no chances. He not only signed a load of JUCO linemen, he brought in an old friend. Jon Hoke has spent the last 13 seasons as an NFL defensive backs coach, but before that, he spent three seasons as Spurrier's coordinator at Florida. Hoke was named co-coordinator with Lorenzo Ward, whom Spurrier retained. (Ward was the sole coordinator from 2012-14, and while he was maligned last fall, his defenses were fine in 2012-13. Talent matters, and South Carolina suddenly had far less of it.)

Hoke's role will be more in defending the pass than the run -- and even with a shoddy pass rush, the run was the major issue -- but his input can't hurt.

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 90 3.49 3.62 43.3% 70.9% 15.6% 63.6 4.3% 2.9%
Rank 105 122 93 116 88 110 120 73 125
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Gerald Dixon DE 6'2, 269 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.7900 12 35.5 5.0% 5.0 2.0 0 3 1 0
J.T. Surratt DT
12 25.0 3.5% 4.5 1.0 0 1 0 0
Gerald Dixon, Jr. NT 6'3, 327 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8103 13 22.0 3.1% 2.0 1.0 0 0 1 0
Darius English DE 6'6, 225 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8990 12 20.5 2.9% 2.0 1.0 0 1 0 0
Phillip Dukes DT 6'3, 319 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9271 13 15.5 2.2% 3.0 0.0 0 0 1 0
David Johnson DE 6'1, 240 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8737 9 12.0 1.7% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Mason Harris DE
10 6.5 0.9% 2.0 1.0 0 2 1 0
Kelsey Griffin DT 6'2, 316 Jr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9599 6 6.0 0.8% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Abu Lamin NT 6'4, 326 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8988 10 6.0 0.8% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Taylor Stallworth DT 6'2, 308 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8547 8 6.0 0.8% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Cedrick Cooper DE 6'2, 248 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8610 6 3.5 0.5% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Marquavius Lewis DE 6'3, 264 Jr. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9587
Ulric Jones DE 6'5, 275 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8485
Devante Covington DE 6'4, 235 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8306
Dante Sawyer DE 6'3, 280 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8958
Jihaustin Thomas DE 6'6, 255 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8000
Shameik Blackshear DE 6'5, 240 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9309
Dexter Wideman NT 6'4, 293 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9271
Quandeski Whitlow DE 6'4, 220 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8615

7. ALL HANDS ON DECK

If quantity equals quality, South Carolina's defense could rebound by quite a bit. Of course, if quantity was quality, last year's D wouldn't have struggled.

Still, the JUCO reinforcements are legion. Marquavious Lewis was one of the most touted JUCO recruits in the country, and Dante Sawyer was a star in the 2014 class who needed an extra year to get qualified. Spurrier went after three other JUCO ends as well.

If Lewis and Sawyer are both able to live up to four-star potential as both run defenders and decent pass rushers, that alone will cure some of what ailed the 'Cocks. And with basically eight members of last year's 10-man rotation back, a few new contributors could raise competition levels.

As with the quarterback position, competence isn't a given. But when you bring in six JUCOs in one unit, odds are decent that one or two will be ready to contribute at a high level.

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Skai Moore MLB 6'2, 218 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8786 12 72.5 10.2% 2.5 1.0 3 0 0 1
Jonathan Walton WLB 6'0, 235 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8411 13 48.5 6.8% 2.5 0.0 1 2 0 0
Sharrod Golightly SLB
13 47.0 6.6% 7.5 1.5 1 3 0 0
T.J. Holloman MLB 6'2, 231 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8612 13 26.5 3.7% 2.5 1.0 0 1 0 0
Marcquis Roberts MLB
13 23.0 3.2% 1.5 0.0 0 2 0 0
Bryson Allen-Williams WLB 6'1, 233 So. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9503 12 22.5 3.2% 2.5 0.5 0 0 1 0
Kaiwan Lewis MLB
8 15.0 2.1% 1.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Larenz Bryant SLB 6'0, 220 Jr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9496 12 3.0 0.4% 1.0 1.0 0 0 1 0
Ernest Hawkins SLB 6'1, 224 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8419
Sherrod Pittman WLB 6'0, 225 Fr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.8950
Jalen Henry MLB 5'10, 207 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8423
Daniel Fennell LB 6'2, 205 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8640








Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
T.J. Gurley SPUR 5'10, 199 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8519 13 64.5 9.0% 1 0 1 4 0 0
Isaiah Johnson
(Kansas)
S 6'0, 200 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8000 12 63.5 9.3% 0.5 0 1 2 1 0
Jordan Diggs SS 6'0, 209 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8786 13 32.5 4.6% 5 2 0 0 1 0
Chris Moody FS 6'1, 215 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8525 13 31.0 4.3% 0 0 1 1 0 0
Rico McWilliams CB 5'11, 186 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8550 12 30.0 4.2% 1 0 0 5 0 0
Brison Williams SS
13 29.5 4.1% 1 0 4 6 0 0
Chris Lammons CB 5'10, 183 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9165 10 20.5 2.9% 0.5 0 0 0 0 0
Kadetrix Marcus SS
12 20.5 2.9% 1 0 0 0 0 0
Al Harris Jr. CB 5'11, 163 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8587 12 19.0 2.7% 1 0 0 3 0 0
Chaz Elder SS 6'2, 209 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8984 12 18.5 2.6% 0 0 0 0 0 0
D.J. Smith FS 5'11, 195 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9175 12 9.5 1.3% 0 0 0 1 0 0
Sidney Rhodes CB
11 2.5 0.4% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Jamari Smith CB 5'10, 200 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8634
Jasper Sasser SPUR 6'0, 207 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8541
Ali Groves FS 5'10, 183 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8594
Wesley Green CB 5'10, 175 RSFr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9279
Toure Boyd S 5'10, 180 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8644
Darin Smalls SPUR 5'11, 190 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8706
Antoine Wilder DB 5'10, 180 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8569

8. Freshmen and sophomores become sophomores and juniors

If the front four improves, the back seven could be downright strong. Last year's secondary was dealt a challenging hand, with all freshmen and sophomores at cornerback and one of the worst pass rushes in the country.

This led to a nearly complete lack of play-making at CB -- the three primary contributors at the position combined for just eight passes defensed and 1.5 tackles for loss -- but solid safety play prevented the 'Cocks from getting lit up by big plays.

With T.J. Gurley, Jordan Diggs, and Chris Moody back, safety should again be a strength. Plus, with added experience at corner, more warm bodies in the pass rush, and interesting newcomers (four-star redshirt freshman Wesley Green [Update: Green is transferring out, Steve Spurrier said], JUCO safety Toure Boyd), the efficiency numbers should improve. I don't see a top-20 pass defense, but it should go from "relative strength" to "strength."

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Tyler Hull 42 41.5 4 13 15 66.7%
Patrick Fish 2 39.0 0 1 1 100.0%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Landon Ard 5'9, 182 Sr. 68 59.2 36 2 52.9%
Zack Cimaglia 12 62.2 7 0 58.3%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Elliott Fry 6'0, 164 Jr. 51-51 11-12 91.7% 7-13 53.8%
Landon Ard 5'9, 182 Sr. 1-1 0-0 N/A 0-0 N/A
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Shon Carson KR 5'8, 204 Sr. 31 20.4 0
Sidney Rhodes KR 4 18.0 0
Pharoh Cooper PR 5'11, 207 Jr. 15 5.0 0
Nick Jones PR 4 5.3 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 37
Field Goal Efficiency 33
Punt Return Efficiency 45
Kick Return Efficiency 50
Punt Efficiency 38
Kickoff Efficiency 89
Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency 22

9. Got a punter?

South Carolina will be reliant on another key newcomer in special teams: FAU transfer Sean Kelly, who will likely take over punting duties. He averaged more than 41 yards per punt for the Owls in 2012, and he takes over for Tyler Hull, whose solid punts aided the field position cause.

That the Gamecocks managed to have only a minus-1.7 yard disadvantage in average starting field position, despite a woefully inefficient defense, was a minor victory. Hull's punts and the semi-efficient returns of Shon Carson and Pharoh Cooper had a role to play. If Kelly is solid, the rest of the unit should be.

2015 Schedule & Projection Factors

2015 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. S&P+ Rk
3-Sep vs. North Carolina 44
12-Sep Kentucky 52
19-Sep at Georgia 3
26-Sep Central Florida 60
3-Oct at Missouri 23
10-Oct LSU 8
17-Oct Vanderbilt 83
31-Oct at Texas A&M 22
7-Nov at Tennessee 20
14-Nov Florida 29
21-Nov The Citadel NR
28-Nov Clemson 15
Five-Year F/+ Rk 35.6% (9)
2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 18 / 20
2014 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin* -2 / -6.2
2014 TO Luck/Game +1.6
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 12 (4, 8)
2014 Second-order wins (difference) 6.5 (0.5)

10. So many tossups

South Carolina was 18 points from finishing the regular season 10-2 and six points from 4-8. Including the bowl, the Gamecocks played in eight games decided by 10 or fewer points.

Considering the schedule features a visit from LSU, a neutral-site game against UNC, and five games against teams projected between 15th and 29th, odds are good that a South Carolina team that should rank about 30th will again be in a lot of games that aren't decided until the fourth quarter.

With almost every game winnable and about nine losable, it is difficult to confidently predict South Carolina's fortunes. The Football Outsiders Almanac 2015 projects the Gamecocks 27th, with a 42 percent chance of 8-4 or better and a 30 percent chance of 6-6 or worse. A 7-5 finish is the most likely outcome, but there's only about a one-in-four chance of that.

Though Spurrier is a lot closer to the end of his career than the beginning, it would be disappointing if he didn't come up with a few more surprises. And while predictions of impending doom may come to fruition, South Carolina will have a puncher's chance at a nice bounceback.