SEC subplots: South Carolina is a legitimate national championship contender

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