Published June 6, 2011 - 9:57am
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Like a reversal of Sherman’s Historical March, the 2011 SEC Eastern Division Championship path to Atlanta runs right through Columbia. The Gamecocks Eastern Division title run has created a thirst for more banners. Returning the offensive battery of Alshon Jeffery and Marcus Lattimore makes the reigning champs the early favorite to repeat. Moreover, the Gamecocks have talent across the board that will drive opposing coaches crazy trying to find favorable match ups.
The Run & Stun offense should be in high gear with the Head Ball Coach pulling the strings. Brace yourself SEC, Coach Spurrier is back on top of the East and should remain there in 2011. His Gamecocks are in position to be a serious contender for the SEC crown, and youthful leadership from sophomores and juniors will bring title game experience in early December.
Head Coach: With sideline generals changing with regularity around the college football landscape, often times it is easy to forget who is leading the troops. However, every seat in every southern Saturday stadium knows exactly who darkens the sidelines of Williams-Brice. Head Coach Steve Spurrier knows how to navigate toward SEC Championships as much as anyone. His newfound Run & Stun offense will be poised to produce points. SEC be warned…The Ball Coach is back to his Championship ways.
Coaching Staff: An easy way to determine the direction of a program and the perception of a head coach is to look at his coaching staff. Coach Spurrier has assembled a great staff at USC. Many of the assistants could be head coaches elsewhere but stay in order to learn more from the Hall of Famer. Ellis Johnson is a seasoned SEC Defensive Coordinator. GA Mangus serves as a quarterback coach / liaison to the Head Man. Receivers Coach Steve Spurrier Jr and Graduate Assistant Scott Spurrier are sticking with the family business. The only real change on the coaching staff is Shane Beamer’s departure to join his father’s coaching staff at Virginia Tech. John Butler, his replacement, as special teams coach, enters the job with a buzz. Look for the special teams to really have a shot in the arm this year.
Quarterback: There is something special about senior quarterbacks in the SEC. Hopefully Stephen Garcia can capture that magic. When he is on, he is dangerous. (Alabama game anyone??) The resident bad boy conjures up images of an old west gunslinger, his fearless throws and high-risk passing breed excitement. Alshon Jeffery provides Garcia with the best receiving threat in America. Having a Heisman talent in the backfield that must be accounted for should open up nice holes in the defense. Conner Shaw will relieve Garcia from time to time with some runs and draws to keep defenses honest. The proverbial x-factor of Bruce Ellington has fans dreaming of the WildCock formation.
Offensive Line: Preseason All-SEC candidates Rokevious Watkins and TJ Johnson should anchor the offensive line. With the weapons are in place at the skill positions, the health of the line will be a necessity. Senior Terrance Campbell needs to have a solid year and look for Cody Gibson to surprise some people coming back from knee surgery. Gibson is an athletic tackle that has the coaches excited. Vaunted recruit Brandon Shell will have an impact this season. The high school All-American should contribute right away. Depth may be an issue, but if injuries are avoided the line should be fine. Coach Shawn Elliot is quickly becoming a sought after line coach who should put together a quality, cohesive unit.
Running Backs: The heartbeat of the Run & Stun Offense is Marcus Lattimore. The All-Freshman everything should make a run at the Heisman Trophy when the dust settles in December. Lattimore has focused on the weight room this offseason, adding 20 lbs of muscle without losing a step of speed. Scary just became downright nightmarish. Accolades and superlatives are not enough for the sophomore running back. He hurts defenses and has shouldered the load against SEC traditions like UF and UGA. He is a leader on and off the field, while redefining the term “coaches’ dream”. Kenny Miles and Eric Baker should split time behind Lattimore. The fall will bring in freshman Shon Carson who looks to be a playmaker. Also, look to see Melvin Ingram some at fullback.
Wide Receivers: The Stun to Lattimore’s run this year will be All-American Alshon Jeffery. Many believe Jeffery to be the best receiver in the nation. His 6-4 frame and in-air athleticism coupled with stellar hands, make him a nightmare for defensive backs. The receiving corps is deep with size and speed galore. Ace Sanders brings speed and DeAngelo Smith is a playmaker. Smith’s play during the spring has the coaches raving about his athletic ability. Shamier Jeffery (Alshon’s younger brother) and Damiere Byrd will be two exciting incoming freshman to watch. Byrd is a football player with track speed. This unit will be a strength of the team.
Tight Ends: Junior Justice Cunningham will continue being a solid tight end. At 6-3, he blocks well for the backs, and his hands are good enough to force defenses to keep a hat on him in coverage. Another intriguing incomer to watch during the fall will be Drew Owens. He is a big frame tight end with good hands.
Defensive Line: The D-Line should be a strong asset on this team. Preseason All-American candidate Devin Taylor will haunt quarterbacks all season as a sacking force off the end. The middle of the line will be strong with Travian Robertson and the 300lb brick of Byron Jerideau. The Gamecocks led the SEC in sacks last year and the trend should continue this season.
As if this unit was not scary enough, incoming freshman Jadeveon Clowney will add an entirely new element to it. The nation’s top overall recruit, who is considered by many experts as a “once-a-decade” type player, will impact immediately. If you have not watched his high school highlight film, stop now and do so! Amazing! Defensive end is one of the easiest transition positions from high school to college. Clowney should come in and begin making an impact right away. Obvious prediction- He will make All-SEC this year. Taylor and Clowney firing off the ends will be a beautiful symphony of clashing symbols against quivering quarterbacks.
Linebackers: This is the major defensive question mark coming into the fall. The return of Rodney Paulk will help with leadership at the position. Demario Jeffery moved from the hybrid spur position to a true linebacker role this spring. Jeffery seemed to adjust well. Reggie Bowen and Quin Smith should contribute. Hopefully the strength of the D-Line will help hide any gaps at linebacker.
Defensive Backs: Preseason All-American Stephon Gilmore should cover one-half of the field by athleticism alone. The other half is still up for grabs. Victor Hampton will compete along with Akeem Auguste and CC Whitlock. DJ Swearinger and Devonte Holloman will continue as impact safeties and spurs. Sharod Golightly had a huge spring and will play himself on the field somewhere. On paper this unit should be a strength, however, there are some concerns among the Gamecock faithful. Third down pass defense was an issue last season but expect the defensive backfield issues to be corrected in the ’11 campaign. Gilmore will lead the troops and quarterbacks lack of throwing time will help. A much improved defensive backfield will solidify a very good SEC defense.
Special Teams: Coach Butler coordinated top special team units at the University of Minnesota. His knowledge and schemes should add some excitement to the return game. Damiere Byrd and Bruce Ellington will be interesting options in the return game. The gamecocks will have big shoes to fill in replacing kicker/punter Spencer Lanning. It will be an interesting race throughout the fall between Jay Wooten, Joey Scribner-Howard and Patrick Fish. Expect Fish to punt but kicker is wide open.
Conclusion: Excitement and expectations have never been higher in Columbia. It seems as if everything is coming together perfectly to create one of the Head Ball Coach’s greatest masterpieces. The offensive weapons rival any team in the nation. The Gamecocks should have four All-Americans (Lattimore, Gilmore, Jeffery, Taylor) and a host of All-SEC players. There is competitive talent across the field, and opposing coaches will have problems matching up against Carolina. The leadership is driven from the younger players.
This is not your father’s Carolina, or slightly older brother’s for that matter. This is a dangerous team that has potential to creep into National Championship talk. As recent history displays, as goes the SEC Championship, so goes the National Title.
Don’t let the stadium paint dry too quickly and make room for more banners. The East Champs should repeat and assert themselves as a new threat in the SEC. Garcia should harness that senior magic and Coach Spurrier will save his best tricks for Atlanta having the Gamecocks dropping feathers towards the BCS…