In preparation for the 2014 college football season, Saturday Down South takes a look at the X factor for every SEC team. Not only do these players have the opportunity to make major contributions for their respective squads, but they could also be the difference in a successful season or a losing season.

Today, we’re discussing the X factor for the South Carolina Gamecocks.

LB Skai Moore

Defense wins championships.

And championships are exactly what South Carolina expects to compete for in 2014. Because they lost key defensive players like Jadeveon Clowney, Kelcy Quarles, Jimmy Legree and Victory Hamptom, the Gamecocks will now look to a new player to lead the defense: linebacker Skai Moore.

Moore came into last season as a four-star prospect and took advantage of a thin linebacking corps. He played in all 13 games and earned four starts. By the end of 2013, Moore led the team in tackles (56) and interceptions (4). Now with a year of experience under his belt, Moore comes into this season ready to play an even bigger role for a South Carolina defense that ranked fifth in the SEC in yards allowed in 2013.

“Last year, I was really just focusing more on not messing up and thinking a little too much out there and didn’t know where my help was coming from. Now, it’s almost like high school. I have the scheme down. I know where my help is coming from, and it’s slowing down for me,” Moore said of the improvements he’s made in the offseason. “I’m able to anticipate better.”

RELATED: 2014 SEC Top 100 Countdown: No. 74 Skai Moore

It’s a different story this season for the South Carolina linebackers. Led by Moore, they return three starters, which will be key for a defense that’s in transition. The secondary and defensive line will have three new starters each.

South Carolina will have a strong offense as always under Steve Spurrier, but it’ll be the play of the defense that will be the difference in meeting those high pre-season expectations or whiffing on them. If Moore can continue to improve and play at the All-SEC caliber many believe he can, the defense shouldn’t miss a beat from last season. His outstanding ball instincts and coverage skills plus his improved understanding of South Carolina’s defensive game plan makes you believe the rising sophomore will evolve into one of the SEC’s newest defensive stars.