Top 25 — No. 8 South Carolina Gamecocks

Published: Thursday, August 11, 2011 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, August 10, 2011 at 11:55 p.m.


2010 record: 9-5 overall, 5-3 in the SEC; Lost to Florida State 26-17 in the Chik-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta, Ga.

Returning starters: 7 on offense; 6 on defense.

Strength: Running back/Defensive line. Marcus Lattimore wasted no time living up to all the five-star hype at South Carolina, solidifying himself as a legit Heisman candidate in what will be his sophomore season. Lattimore rushed for a school-record 17 touchdowns and shattered the school freshman rushing record with 1,197 rushing yards. He proved himself to be a very dangerous pass-catcher as well whether it was on designed plays or broken plays, reeling in 29 passes for 412 yards and two touchdowns. Meanwhile, the Gamecocks' defensive line should be among the best in the country, touting great experience and two elite pass-rushers on the ends. Redshirt junior Devin Taylor (7.5) and redshirt senior Melvin Ingram (9.0) combined for 16.5 sacks on a D-line that tied for third in the nation in that department with 41. Senior Travian Robertson is versatile enough to play anywhere on the line. By the way, the nation's No. 1 recruit for 2011, Jadeveon Clowney, is expected to make an impact there. If not, the team won't have any problems going with yet another upperclassmen, Aldrick Fordham.

Weakness: Offensive line. Head coach Steve Spurrier has said the O-line is lacking in the “smartness” category. Well, they're lacking in experience as three senior starters on the line who combined for 67 career starts are gone. They're also lacking in depth as the team has suffered injuries at the position. There is a positive in that South Carolina does have the luxury of having six offensive line recruits in this year's incoming class. Nonetheless, they'll need to keep quarterback Stephen Garcia's jersey a little cleaner after allowing 30 sacks a season ago.

Biggest star: Running back Marcus Lattimore. Sure, Lattimore left behind some numbers for the record books and plays for the highlight reels. But more impressively, Lattimore put the Gamecocks on his shoulders in the team's two biggest wins last season. In victories over Georgia and Florida, Lattimore carried the ball 37 and 40 times, respectively on the way to monster performances. His versatility is unmistakable whether it's running or receiving, bruising or breaking away. Even mentioning those dimensions don't do enough to describe Lattimore. As is the case with most great running backs, it's his vision that sets him apart from the others. Word is he's bulked up to 232 pounds and improved his 40 time.

Rising star: Defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. The nation's No. 1 recruit for 2011 is in a great position to make an impact as a freshman. The 6-foot-6, 254-pound Clowney could take some attention off of star bookends Taylor and Ingram, especially on obvious passing downs where that duo demands lots of attention. Gamecock fans have their eyes on Clowney and whether he can live up to his reputation as the most highly anticipated and highly decorated recruit in South Carolina football history. Clowney is the third-straight South Carolina Mr. Football to sign with the Gamecocks, following in the footsteps of Lattimore and cornerback Stephon Gilmore. He'll make his presence felt at some point and maybe as early as this year.

Toughest game: At Georgia, Sep. 10. The media and the coaches both picked these teams to battle it out for the SEC East crown, and they'll go at it in the second week of the season in Athens. This game will play a big role in deciding who eventually makes it to Atlanta for the SEC title game.

Overview: South Carolina accomplished a lot of firsts last season. They beat a No. 1 team. They went to the SEC title game. They won in The Swamp. Progress was finally made in Spurrier's sixth year as head coach. However, fans in Columbia didn't like the way the season ended. A lopsided 56-17 loss to Auburn in the SEC Championship and a disappointing 26-17 defeat to Florida State in the Chik-fil-A Bowl left a bitter taste in the Gamecocks' mouths. There are some reasons for concern heading into this season as well. There isn't a lot of depth alongside Lattimore at running back. Junior Kenny Miles will need to step up in order to take some of the load off of Lattimore for the stretch run. There also isn't a lot of help alongside Alshon Jeffery at receiver. Outside of Jeffery, South Carolina doesn't return any player who recorded more than 25 catches last season…except for Lattimore and his 29. Tori Gurley is in the pros with the Packers now. Ace Sanders and D.L. Moore will have to make contributions to prevent defenses from doubling Jeffery on key downs. The Gamecocks do have the benefit of a favorable SEC schedule with Alabama and LSU not on the slate this season.

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