5 predictions for South Carolina in 2015
Rest assured opposing coaches haven’t spent the summer feeling sorry for Steve Spurrier, South Carolina’s leading man who many feel is in danger of suffering his first losing season in 23 years as an SEC head coach.
Free of College Football Playoff chatter and written off as the fourth or fifth-best team in their own division, the Head Ball Coach’s Gamecocks suffered from a talent-deprived defensive front last fall and coupled with youthful inexperience, stumbled to a disappointing 7-6 mark as the preseason East favorite.
No longer feeling pressure of the elite label after the program’s Top 15 finish streak was snapped, maybe South Carolina’s return to fighting for respect in the middle of the pack will benefit a group hungry to overcome perceived frontrunners Georgia, Tennessee and Mizzou.
Why not us is back inside the Gamecocks’ locker room, and this time, South Carolina appears to have made the necessary personnel and coaching staff changes to make this season worth watching for the long-time doom and gloomers.
Peeking into the crystal ball, here are five items we see coming to fruition with this year’s team:
5 predictions for South Carolina in 2015
5. The Gamecocks will have a 1,000-yard rusher
Pick your poison. South Carolina has two running backs, Brandon Wilds and David Williams, capable of reaching 1,000 yards in an offense that will, at least, be geared toward the ground game. To his credit, Wilds stuck around for his senior season to try and ‘be the guy’ for the first time in his career, no longer sharing second-team carries behind Marcus Lattimore and most recently, Mike Davis. He has posted four 100-yard games in his career and for the first time since arriving from nearby Blythewood High as a freshman in 2011, is at full strength heading into fall. He’ll try and separate from Williams, the Gamecocks’ third-year sophomore speed option, during August but it won’t be easy. Williams averaged 5.7 yards per carry in limited action last season.
4. Pharoh Cooper will exceed 115 touches on offense
Recently named to the Paul Hornung watch list as one of college football’s most versatile players, Cooper is the league’s top returning player on the outside in terms of production following a monster 1,136-yard, nine-touchdown sophomore campaign. It’s in the Gamecocks’ best interest to make sure his touches increase substantially this fall on an offense replacing the five out of six leading pass-catchers behind him. The junior All-American candidate averaged 13.9 yards per touch last season as a direct snap and quick-catch playmaker. In 24 career games, Cooper’s notched five plays spanning 70 or more yards.
3. All four SEC road games will result in losses
You can’t simulate big-game environments on the practice field and quarterback Connor Mitch is going to learn that the hard way this season as a first-year starter under center. South Carolina’s SEC road slate doesn’t let up, beginning with a trip to Athens on Sept. 19 and ending in Knoxville in November. The Gamecocks have won two of their last four meetings against Georgia between the hedges, but this year’s matchup presents a considerably more difficult challenge as an early double-digit underdog. Mizzou and Texas A&M, whose campuses are a combined 1,913 miles away from Williams-Brice, are the other two road opponents South Carolina would have to play near flawlessly to overcome on the road. The Gamecocks do have their bye week prior to going head to head with the Aggies, a definite plus. I picked the Gamecocks to upend LSU at home on Oct. 10, but the road schedule will lead to a .500 SEC finish.
2. Marquavius Lewis will be team’s sack leader
The Gamecocks’ defensive MVP of the spring brings much-needed athleticism to a defensive front that struggled mightily last season in all aspects, specifically against the run and in passing situations. Not only will the top-rated JUCO pass rusher flourish as a three-down pass rusher, but Lewis’ tenacity and business-like approach should encourage players around him to improve. He’s a competitor with an endless motor anxious to strengthen South Carolina’s reputation at the point of attack. I’m projecting 51 tackles and seven sacks for the Palmetto State native, which should be good enough for all-conference mention.
1. South Carolina will win its bowl game for fifth straight year
Before Spurrier’s arrival, the Gamecocks had three bowl wins in program history — a 112-year span. Since, South Carolina’s won five of nine bowl contests including its active streak of four straight. Seven wins will be enough to get to Jacksonville, Nashville or Birmingham this season which wouldn’t be all that bad of a consolation prize for a team facing the league’s toughest non-conference schedule.