South Carolina football reached its high-water mark last season not only under Steve Spurrier but, arguably, in program history as the Gamecocks went 11-2 overall, including a 6-2 mark in the SEC and a Capital One Bowl thumping of Nebraska, 30-13.
The Gamecocks finished in the Top 10 of the AP and Coaches Polls for the first time in program history. Cynics will point to the fact that South Carolina managed to somehow avoid both LSU and Alabama on its schedule last year, but there is no denying the Gamecocks had a defense that could rank right up there with the Tigers and Crimson Tide.
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South Carolina now has the unenviable task of trying to make good on the incredibly high expectations swirling around Columbia.
The 67-year old coach won 11 games last season for the first time since his 1996 Florida Gator team went 12-1 and won the National Championship.
Under Spurrier, South Carolina’s win total has slowly improved from six wins in 2007 to seven in 2008 and 2009, nine in 2010 and 11 last year.
The Capital One Bowl win over Nebraska snapped a three-year bowl losing streak Spurrier suffered through. The 2011 campaign was more of what South Carolina had in mind when Spurrier was hired in 2005 to replace Lou Holtz.
There is no denying that South Carolina’s success last season was driven by the defense, but this year the offense is going to have to take on more of the workload, and the group appears ready to do just that.
Junior running back Marcus Lattimore returns after sustaining a season-ending knee injury in the seventh game of the season. Despite missing six games, Lattimore rushed for 818 yards and 10 touchdowns. That follows up on a freshman campaign of 1,197 yards and 17 touchdowns. The Gamecocks know what they are getting with Lattimore, who is listed at 15/1 to win the Heisman, the seventh best odds on Bovada for any player.
Lattimore will have the benefit of three returning starters on the offensive line and a capable cast of running backs who can spell him at times, including sophomore Brandon Wilds, who rushed for 486 yards in Lattimore’s absence last season.
The quarterback situation is far more solidified this year than it has with past Spurrier squads in Columbia. Despite having the 95th ranked passing offense last season (181.5 yards per game), junior quarterback Connor Shaw was very productive since taking over in the sixth game of the season. With Lattimore injured Shaw picked up the slack, stringing together three consecutive 200-yard passing games, including eight touchdown passes in three South Carolina wins.
The South Carolina defense was downright dominant at times last year. It ranked third in the NCAA in total yards allowed per game (268), second in passing yards per game (132) and 11th in points allowed (18.4). A duplicate performance will be asking a lot now that four of those defenders will be suiting up in the NFL, including two first rounders, cornerback Stephon Gilmore and defensive end Melvin Ingram.
The strength of the defense is in the front seven, especially the defensive line, where senior Devin Taylor will line up alongside the explosive sophomore sensation Jadeveon Clowney. Clowney is listed at +17,500 to win the Heisman on 5Dimes. The linebacker situation is basically set with senior returning starters Shaq Wilson and Reginald Bowens anchoring the middle.
The questions and clear weakness is the secondary where three starters need to replaced, but the Gamecocks do have seniors DeVonte Holloman and D.J. Swearinger returning. Swearinger led the team in tackles (80) and interceptions (three).
2012 South Carolina Football Schedule Analysis
South Carolina avoided LSU and Alabama last season, but this year it avoids Alabama but has a brutal road SEC schedule featuring trips to LSU and Florida in back-to-back weeks. It also travels to in-state rival Clemson.
As has become customary in recent history, South Carolina will open the season on the first night of college football, this year being Thursday, Aug. 30. South Carolina travels to Vanderbilt before hosting a pair of nonconference teams in East Carolina and UAB. South Carolina’s SEC home games are against newcomer Missouri, Georgia, Tennessee and Arkansas.
2012 South Carolina Gamecocks Futures Odds
After winning a program-best 11 games last season, the oddsmakers have set the South Carolina win total at 8.5 with the “over” juiced at -120 and the “under” paying out at +100.
On 5Dimes South Carolina is 5/2 to win the SEC East, 10/1 to win the SEC and 42/1 to win the BCS National Championship.
In future college football point spreads on 5Dimes, South Carolina is favored against Missouri (-5), Tennessee (-6.5) and Vanderbilt (-9) and underdogs against Georgia (+2), Arkansas (+2), Clemson (+2.5) and Florida (+5).
2012 South Carolina Gamecocks Football Predictions
South Carolina managed an 11-win season last year with Lattimore and Shaw not starting a combined 10 games. If that duo stays healthy the offense will be much-improved and even a slight regression by the defense will not turn this 11-win team into an eight-win team.
The schedule is not as favorable as last year but still favorable. South Carolina will only be a decided underdog in one game (at LSU) and it will be a decided favorite in four games.
Spurrier teams rarely have letdowns after successful campaigns; this team is built for nine wins or more this season. The play is over 8.5 wins.
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