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Can South Carolina take control of the SEC East in 2013?
Was 2012 the best disappointment in school history? South Carolina won a school-record 11 games with wins over Michigan, Georgia, Clemson, Tennessee and Arkansas. It finished seventh in the final polls, the best final ranking in school history. But two crucial losses to LSU and Florida gave the Gamecocks a third-place finish in the SEC East and relegated them to the Outback Bowl. There are some specific holes to fill and new faces will need to step into more prominent roles, but all the pieces are in place for Steve Spurrier to make yet another run at the SEC Championship Game.
South Carolina Gamecocks 2013 Spring Preview
2012 Record: 11-2 (6-2)
Spring practice dates: March 5-April 13
Returning Starters: Offense – 6, Defense – 5
Passing: Connor Shaw, 154-of-228, 1,956 yds., 17 TDs, 7 INTs
Rushing: Connor Shaw, 131 car., 435 yds., 3 TDs
Receiving: Bruce Ellington, 40 rec., 600 yds, 7 TDs
Tackles: Jadeveon Clowney, 54
Sacks: Jadeveon Clowney, 13.0
Interceptions: Jimmy Legree, 3
Redshirts to watch: CB Chaz Elder, OT Brock Stadnik, WR Jody Fuller, LB T.J. Holloman, LB/S Jordan Diggs, DE Darius English
Aug. 29 North Carolina (Thur.)
Sept. 7 at Georgia
Sept. 14 Vanderbilt
Sept. 21 Bye Week
Sept. 28 at UCF
Oct. 5 Kentucky
Oct. 12 at Arkansas
Oct. 19 at Tennessee
Oct. 26 at Missouri
Nov. 2 Mississippi State
Nov. 9 Bye Week
Nov. 16 Florida
Nov. 23 Coastal Carolina
Nov. 30 Clemson
Offensive Strength: The offensive line. Four of five starters return to the line and welcome loads of depth and new talent from the 2012 and '13 recruiting classes. Only center T.J. Johnson is gone from this battery of blockers.
Offensive Weakness: Playmakers. The team's top two leading rushers are gone, as is dynamic wideout Ace Sanders and leading tight end Justice Cunningham. Finding a tailback, a big vertical threat on the outside and developing a tight end would all help this offense.
Defensive Strength: Defensive line. The best player in the nation leads what could be one of the best defensive lines in the SEC. Replacing Devin Taylor and Byron Jerideau will be easier than expected.
Defensive Weakness: Linebackers. The top five players in the linebacking corps have moved on and no one player returns to the position with more than five total tackles from a year ago.
Spring Storylines Facing the Gamecocks:
1. Fill gaps at linebacker. The top five linebackers are gone from this roster and Spurrier will have his hands full trying to fill the gaps. Four of the five posted at least 47 tackles and no one player returns to the position with more than five tackles. Seven of the 10 returning linebackers will be freshmen, so this position has loads of talent but very little experience. Kaiwan Lewis and T.J. Holloman played as freshmen while a talented trio of redshirts in Edward Muldrow, Mason Harris and Cedrick Cooper will be intriguing to watch. Jordan Diggs could be in line to take over for DeVonte Holloman at the hybrid Spur position. This is an extremely young group but has upside, so the coaching staff needs to iron out this rotation sooner rather than later.
2. Find some playmakers on offense. The line of scrimmage is stacked on both sides of the ball and Spurrier has two talented options returning at quarterback. But he needs to see playmakers develop this spring on offense. The top two rushers from a year ago, Marcus Lattimore and Kenny Miles, are both gone while dynamic receiver Ace Sanders unexpectedly left early for the NFL. Sophomore Mike Davis heads a trio of unproven backs with Brandon Wilds and Kendric Salley all vying for carries in the backfield. Speedy wideouts Damiere Byrd and Bruce Ellington are both back but neither is a go-to target on the outside. Look for Nick Jones and Shaq Roland to get plenty of reps this spring.
3. Settle on a quarterback. It may be hard to believe that anyone other than Connor Shaw would begin the season under center. However, Dylan Thompson got tons of reps due to Shaw's lingering injuries. Thompson and early enrollee Connor Mitch both have tons of talent and will push Shaw for time. Gamecocks fans should be rooting for Shaw to put a stranglehold on the starting job this spring and make this position battle an afterthought heading into the summer.
4. Organize the secondary on defense. It's not as dire a situation as the linebackers, but there are some voids to fill in the defensive backfield as well. Akeem Auguste and D.J. Swearinger were the key departures. Victor Hampton and Jimmy Legree should lock down the cornerback spots while Brison Williams should start at safety. Look for Spurrier to find some supporting actors for this portion of his defense. Ahmad Christian, T.J. Gurley, Kadetrix Marcus and the hybrid Diggs should all get long looks with the starters this spring.
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