The University of South Carolina football team enjoyed another 11-win season in 2012. But it was the two losses on the Gamecocks’ schedule that we remember more than the wins.
South Carolina steamrolled through much of its schedule, beating five of its first six opponents by at least 21 points each. But back-to-back road losses to LSU and Florida derailed their SEC title hopes, as Georgia won its division and went to the SEC title game.
The Gamecocks can’t have those costly games back, but they’re looking to avoid the same missteps and get into the BCS title talk this time around.
Let's break it down...
What talent is on hand?
Plenty. The Gamecocks enter the season ranked sixth nationally for a reason. Senior quarterback Connor Shaw is one of six returning starters on offense. He quietly threw for 1,956 yards and 17 touchdowns last season and should compete for All-SEC honors this year. Leading receiver Bruce Ellington (40 catches, 600 yards, seven touchdowns) is back, as is running back Mike Davis.
Davis finished 2012 fourth in team rushing yards with 275 (Shaw was second with 435), but Davis had the best yards-per-carry average at 5.3. And on defense, Jadeveon Clowney returns as a force on the defensive line. He had 13 sacks last season and 23.5 tackles for a loss. He’ll look to build on those numbers as he tries to become the top pick in next spring’s NFL Draft.
So what’s the problem?
The defense lost six starters, and the offense’s losses included some of its most explosive weapons. Davis is the only top-five running back returning from 2012. And Ellington is the only top-four receiver coming back for South Carolina. On defense, the five best linebackers have moved on, as have defensive end Devin Taylor and safety D.J. Swearinger. Sure, there is talent here, but the Cocks have lost a ton of great personnel. It won’t be easy to replace all of these guys.
Can this be overcome?
Potentially. South Carolina is becoming like Alabama and Florida in terms of continually restocking the talent pool. But the linebacking corps, for example, will count on a redshirt freshman and three sophomores among its top five guys. And the defensive line has no seniors at all. So youth stepping up will be key to the Gamecocks’ fate. But if there’s one position where experience can hide deficiencies, it’s the offensive line. Good news: The Gamecocks return six players who have started on the O-line.
Can the Gamecocks hang with the SEC’s best?
Yes, potentially. Florida destroyed South Carolina last year, but this time the Gators come north to play. Georgia is about the only other SEC game that should prove a true test for the Gamecocks. Getting through those – which is a big if – all but guarantees an SEC title game appearance. If you look at the schedule, South Carolina should get easy wins over UCF, Kentucky, Tennessee, Coastal Carolina and North Carolina. In other words, this is a friendly schedule (no Alabama to worry about), especially when you consider fans who buy Tennessee Volunteers football tickets and pack Neyland Stadium (as they’ll do on Oct. 19 for the Gamecocks game) know their program is seriously down—compared with a surging South Carolina.
As for the national title?
It’s a long shot, but not impossible. The Gamecocks avoid Alabama in the regular season but would likely have to go through them to win the SEC. The non-conference schedule (North Carolina, at Central Florida, Coastal Carolina) is kind, as is the fact South Carolina does not travel in November. No other team in any conference may be able to touch the Gamecocks, but they can’t touch the Crimson Tide. And that will be their shortfall.
So if you are one that would do some "college football betting" .... what would you say are the odds that South Carolina wins the title???
I'd put the odds at something like 15-1 for Carolina getting to the national title game. As you point out the schedule is manageable, but it is also strong enough to get USC to the title game. Of the four OOC teams, three are in BCS conferences. The Gamecocks could conceivably drop a regular season, conference game, rally to win the East and the SEC and find themselves playing for the national title.