SEC subplots: South Carolina is a legitimate national championship contender

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SDS kicks off a series looking in-depth at teams and their biggest subplots heading into 2013. Up next: South Carolina.

SEC Subplots

1. Will this finally be the year for Carolina?

I’ve been asking myself this question for the last couple of years now. Steve Spurrier has built a championship-caliber program in Columbia, backed by a power rushing team and a physical defense that will get after the quarterback. SC has the East’s most favorable schedule out of Florida and Georgia and finally gets a break schedule-wise. The offense will be fine with seven returning starters, but the defense is the biggest question. The top four tackling linebackers are gone, but this corps should be more athletic than last year’s group. If the defense can find a leader like DJ Swearinger and the line dominates again, USC could be set up for an epic championship game in Atlanta. They are very much in the national championship hunt entering 2013.

2. A defensive Heisman

No true defensive player has ever won the Heisman, but no player has had that opportunity like Jadeveon Clowney. Aside from his once-in-a-generation ability on the field, Clowney has kept his nose clean off the field. You never hear anything about him from a negative standpoint. Carolina will be good enough to give him that platform, and if he can dominate the game and continue progressing like he’s shown in two straight seasons, why not? He registered 13 sacks and 23.5 tackles for loss last year, and those numbers will have to increase for him to actually win the award. It’s pretty safe to say he’ll be a finalist, but to win the vote is a whole other matter.

3. Replacing Lattimore

If anyone thinks South Carolina’s ground-and-pound won’t be effective without Marcus Lattimore, they’re doing it wrong. In fact, Carolina is 9-1 in the last two seasons without Lattimore. Mike Davis and Brandon Wilds are more than capable of carrying the load. Throw in Connor Shaw, Kendric Salley, Shon Carson and incoming freshmen David Williams and Jamari Smith, all of the sudden this position goes from question mark to strength.

4. Two-QB system

Everyone wants to know how Steve Spurrier will use dueling quarterbacks Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson. Despite the notion that Shaw may not look the part of an elite passer and offensive leader, he’s the most underrated player in the SEC. He’s 17-3 as a starter and will grind it out with the best of ‘em. He’s tough. Then you have Thompson, a backup quarterback who has ice water in his veins. Thompson is the more talented passer, but Shaw probably couldn’t come off the bench with an edge like Thompson has. Whether Spurrier decides to just play one or the other, or whether he wants to rotate him like his days at Florida, he’ll do it for the benefit of the team to win a championship.

SDS takeaway: Spurrier continues to amaze. He traded his high-octane Florida offense for a ground-and-pound offense and a physical and stingy defense. Is Spurrier’s window closing? This could be his bet team at Carolina yet.

Photo Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

COMMENTS

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  • I’ve really enjoyed what Spurrier has done to Gamecock program, and I do believe they could be a serious contender to win the East. And while there is a lot of hope and anticipation for the program, they have some pretty large holes to fill, especially on defense. SC only returns 5 defensive starters and were completely wiped out at Linebacker. The D-line might be easily replenished with the help of Clowney already being there. But the Cornerbacks will be thin with depth and relying on young talent at Safety is a hit or miss. On the offensive side if the ball, the O-line and WR corps should be pretty good, although the offense needs to find a gamechanger like they had in Ace Sanders. Running a two-quarterback system always has the potential to be really efficient or detrimental, so the just is still out on the QBs. Regardless, Steve Spurrier is a great coach, and you can bet his goal is to win games and be proud of the product he puts on the field. If they can find a way to fill those holes on defense, and find good chemistry on defense, we might get to see a solid heavyweight title bout in Atlanta come December.

  • There’s no doubt they are legit…But all I know is they gotta come through Athens…where there better be a calender w/ Sept 7th circled in RED in every section of the Weight Room and Practice Facilities. The fans gotta do their part too…we gotta have Sanford every bit as crunk as Williams-Brice was last year. I don’t think the loser of that game makes it to ATL this year.

    • I don’t know. With y’all’s schedule, it’s very possible for us to lose that game and still make it to Atlanta. We have Florida and Clempson at home, and our west draw is favorable. I’m not conceding that we’re going to lose, because I think y’all’s defense is recovering from the draft this year alongside ours. Should be an interesting, offensive brawl, but it’s very possible for Carolina to lose that one and still be in Atlanta come SECCG time.

    • I respect your intelligence and thought put into your comment above. My mother and I were just talking about how UGA will be the toughest game of the year for us, especially ‘b/t the hedges.’ It should be a good game, nerve-racking on both ends, but I kind of feel that it’s always been that way, especially growing up as a Carolina fan. On that note, we were also discussing the pleasure we will get out of UGA beating the crap out of Clemson!! Of course we look on their boards to see what they are saying, and as usual, they are quite delusional. Their fans are talking all sorts of smack abt how they are going to ‘beat y’all’s @**’, and also be contenders for the National Championship. I do believe that they are in for a very rude awakening. We’ll be pulling hard for the Dawgs in Death Valley. Clemson is so full it, gah. GO SEC!

      • Don’t get me wrong. I hope Clempson loses, but I hope that it’s close and physical (physical is asking a lot from an ACC team outside Tallahassee). We really need the taters to wear them down a bit, because our LB corps is going to need all the help they can get containing Gurshall. For once, I will be pulling for UGA, but only enough to end Clempson’s NCG hopes right out of the gate. Otherwise, we need them to wear the dogs out.

  • People can say what they want about Steve Spurrier, but what he has done for South Carolina was convincing the administration to upgrade the athletic program with some serious money, and eight years later South Carolina is no longer one of the pushover teams in the SEC, which says it all. The elite teams in the conference have not changed, except that the Gamecocks have now solidly joined the group. Go Gamecocks!

  • As to the comments concerning Georgia beating Clemson, because I live on the Georgia-South Carolina border, I used to root for Georgia in games not involving the Gamecocks. Then in two of the past three years that the Gamecocks beat Georgia but then watched Georgia go to Atlanta, I just can’t do that anymore.

    I’m hoping for a very humiliating 3 touchdown defeat for Georgia Saturday night which will then allow the Gamecocks to sneak into Athens the following Saturday and beat the Bulldogs for a FOURPEAT! To me, that is the best case scenario for the Gamecocks. Needless to say, all the talk is no over, and the season is upon us!

    Good luck to everyone but especially to Gamecock Nation! Go Gamecocks!