Athlon's College Football top 25 countdown for 2012 continues with No. 10 South Carolina. The Gamecocks should be in the hunt for the SEC East, but need a healthy year from running back Marcus Lattimore.
What Will South Carolina's SEC Record Be in 2012?
David Fox (@DavidFox615)
The more I look back at South Carolina’s 2011 season, the more impressive the Gamecocks’ year looks. Despite only seven games from Marcus Lattimore, a subpar year from Alshon Jeffery and inconsistent quarterback play until the second half of the season, South Carolina still managed to win 11 games, including routs over Clemson and Nebraska to finish up the season. Once he became the full-time starter, quarterback Connor Shaw stabilized the offense in the second half of the season. I’m looking forward to what the Gamecocks look like with him and Lattimore running the show full-time next season. Shaw and Lattimore only started two games in the same backfield last season, both wins, over Kentucky and Mississippi State. The defense should be top-notch again, though in the SEC, it’s probably a notch behind LSU, Alabama and Georgia. Even if South Carolina has a shot to win 10 or more games this season, the schedule is going to be difficult – especially compared to fellow SEC East contender Georgia, which again catches a break by missing LSU, Alabama and Arkansas while the Gamecocks visit Baton Rouge and host the Razorbacks. The Gamecocks are probably looking at a loss at LSU plus another game, at home against Georgia or Arkansas on the road against Florida, with potential to trip up the Gamecocks. I’d pick South Carolina to finish 6-2 again in the East.
Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Before Bobby Petrino got run out of town at Arkansas, I had South Carolina going 5-3 in the league. Not even the most diehard South Carolina fans honestly expect to go into Baton Rouge and beat LSU. An upset win certainly isn't impossible, it just can't be expected. A home loss to Arkansas was penciled in as well. The Hogs have crushed the Gamecocks three straight times by a total of 118 to 64 with no game decided by less than 16 points. And the Gamecocks are always good for at least one unexpected loss — let's call it the Clemson effect. The 2012 candidates for this year's Auburn would be road games at Vanderbilt and Florida as well as home games against improved Georgia, Tennessee and Missouri teams. It's this brutal schedule that has forced Athlon Sports to pick the Dawgs to win the East the last two years.
Having said all of that, I think Carolina is the better team than Georgia this fall. And now that John L. Smith is leading the Hogs into Williams-Brice, I feel comfortable picking the Cocks to end their losing ways against cross-over rival Arkansas. The East is improved around the Cocks at almost every turn and will provide loads of speed bumps, so I still have to call for the lone unexpected disappointing performance. This leaves Steve Spurrier's bunch at 6-2 for the season in SEC play — which easily could be enough to win the East, especially should they beat the Bulldogs at home on October 6.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
The Gamecocks are coming off their best two-year stretch in school history, so the expectations are high going into 2012. The pieces are in place to contend for the SEC East title once again, but South Carolina does have a few key question marks to answer.
Quarterback Connor Shaw played well at the end of last season, but can he carry that momentum into a full year? The receiving corps also needs to replace Alshon Jeffery, while running back Marcus Lattimore is recovering from a torn ACL. The defense brings back six starters, but must replace lineman Melvin Ingram (first-team All-SEC in 2011), while cornerback Stephon Gilmore and safety Antonio Allen are departing from the secondary.
Despite the question marks, South Carolina has a chance to win 10 games. The opener against Vanderbilt won’t be easy, but the Gamecocks should escape Nashville with a close victory. After taking on the Commodores in Week 1, South Carolina should improve to 5-0 before taking on Georgia on Oct. 6, LSU on Oct. 13 and Florida on Oct. 27. Those three games should define the Gamecocks’ position in the SEC East. Win all three and South Carolina should cruise to the East title. However, losses in two of those games and the battle with Georgia likely won’t be decided until the SEC finale against Arkansas. The Gamecocks also take on rival Clemson in Death Valley on Nov. 24, which is not a guaranteed win.
I think the Gamecocks go 6-2 in SEC play and finish with a 9-3 or 10-2 overall record. Considering Georgia does not play LSU, Alabama or Arkansas, South Carolina desperately needs to beat the Bulldogs on Oct. 6 to take an early lead in the battle to win the SEC East. I give a slight edge to Georgia in the division, but wouldn't be surprised if South Carolina represents the East in Atlanta.
I think South Carolina will go 5-3 in the SEC this season. Georgia is the best in the East in my opinion and I expect the Bulldogs to beat the Gamecocks in Columbia on Oct. 6. The other tough games on SC's conference schedule in 2012 are at LSU (Oct. 13), at Florida (Oct. 20) and home to Arkansas (Nov. 10). Having to play in Baton Rouge and Gainesville in the same season is bad enough, but back-to-back just adds to the degree of difficulty. And then there's Arkansas, who the Gamecocks get in Columbia, but it's not like this Hogs team is UAB or Wofford, who South Carolina also hosts this season. Arkansas will be one of the more potent offenses in the entire SEC and should the Hogs be able to put points on the board against South Carolina's defense, I'm not so sure the Gamecocks' offense has the firepower to go point-for-point with them.
Bottom line is I see Steve Spurrier's crew dropping at least two of the three games against LSU, Florida and Arkansas, which coupled with the loss to Georgia, puts them at 5-3 in the SEC. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me that much if they lost all four of these. And that's before the Gamecocks end the season at in-state rival Clemson, who could have one of the most potent offenses in all of college football. Considering all five of these games occur in about a stretch of 50 days, it could be a long seven weeks for South Carolina's defense by the time October rolls around.
Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I predict Steve Spurrier’s squad to go 6-2 in league play. The Gamecocks may have the best team in the East division, but the schedule is very difficult. September games against Vanderbilt and conference-newcomer Missouri will not be easy, but then a brutal October slate will decide SC’s chances for winning a division crown. The Gamecocks take on Georgia, have back-to back trips to LSU and Florida and then host an improved Tennessee bunch. After a bye week to begin November, South Carolina hosts an Arkansas squad that has beaten the Gamecocks three years in a row by a combined score of 118-64.
The return of All-America running back Marcus Lattimore will be a huge boost to the SC offense, and quarterback Connor Shaw was playing great football at the end of last season. The main question mark on offense will be at wideout, where only Ace Sanders has significant experience. The defense should be excellent once again, led by stellar rush ends Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor. If Lattimore returns to his previous form and some answers emerge at receiver, South Carolina will be in the hunt for a December trip to Atlanta.
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