The Gamecocks are coming off of the best three-year run in program history.
South Carolina has posted three consecutive 11-win seasons — the only three 11-win seasons in school history. The year before that, it played in its only SEC Championship Game after winning its only East Division title since joining the conference in 1992.
Needless to say, Steve Spurrier has built a giant in Columbia. But despite all of the success his team has brought fans over the last half-decade, it still hasn't produced a championship. This program is nationally relevant for the first time in its long history and an SEC title is the only thing left for the Ol’ Ball Coach to accomplish at South Carolina.
With a deep and talented depth chart returning to campus and a coaching staff that stayed intact, there is no reason why the Cocks can’t be a major contender for a playoff spot in 2014.
South Carolina 2014 Spring Preview
2013 Record: 11-2 (6-2 SEC)
Spring Practice Opens: March 4
Spring Game: April 12
Three Things to Watch in South Carolina's 2014 Spring Practice
Connor Shaw was one of the most underrated players to ever play in the SEC. His graduation leaves a gaping void under center and in the leadership department. The good news is Dylan Thompson has loads of experience and a big arm to stretch the field. His starting experience should help the redshirt senior assume the role as Commander-in-Chief of Spurrier’s huddle. He will have plenty of talent on the outside to work with, as names like Pharoh Cooper, Shaq Roland, Nick Jones and Rory Anderson highlight the receiving corps. The offensive line also returns largely intact with only one starter gone from last year’s unit. So if Thompson can settle into his role as “the guy” quickly this spring, there is no reason to think that this offense won’t be one of the best in the SEC.
Rebuild the defensive line
The defensive side of the ball has much bigger voids to fill, especially along the line of scrimmage. There is no substitute for Jadeveon Clowney but having to find suitable replacements for first-team All-SEC tackle Kelcy Quarles and end Chaz Sutton makes the chore even more difficult. Spurrier has recruited at an extremely high level nationally and should have plenty of bodies lined up for playing time. This coaching staff just needs to figure out which players fit where this spring. Darius English, Gerald Dixon, J.T. Surratt and Phillip Dukes all return with experience but organizing the D-line depth chart has to be a priority for the Cocks’ coaching staff this spring. What can JUCO defensive lineman Abu Lamin and converted linebacker Cedrick Cooper bring to the table?
Find cover corners
Victor Hampton was a second-team All-SEC pick and one of the most talented athletes on the roster a year ago. He and fellow starting cornerback Jimmy Legree have both departed Columbia, leaving Spurrier’s defense lacking in outside covermen. This might be the biggest area of concern in spring camp because there are only four scholarship cornerbacks slated to participate. Rico McWilliams has two career starts and he is the most experienced player in the group by a wide margin. There will be reinforcements coming when the bulk of the heralded 2014 signing class gets to campus in the summer, but for the spring time, depth is a major issue on the outside. Finding players who can matchup outside with big wide receivers will be the focus, but keeping an already thin depth chart healthy will be equally important.
2014 Early Projected Win Range: 9-11
Spurrier is on a roll right now. He owns the Palmetto State in recruiting and on the field, he’s won 33 games in three years and has his entire coaching staff back intact. Both specialists and 13 (of 22) starters return along with three consecutive top-20 recruiting classes. So while expectation levels are rightfully sky high, this roster also is capable of competing despite the loss of Clowney and Shaw. The schedule sets up nicely too. Georgia, Missouri and Tennessee will all come to Columbia while there is no Alabama or LSU and Johnny Manziel-less Texas A&M in crossover play from the West. Key second-half road trips to Auburn and Florida look like the toughest tests in the SEC for South Carolina. With this roster, this coach and this schedule, an SEC East title is well within reach.