In Steve Spurrier, South Carolina is coached by one of the greatest coaches the SEC (and College Football), has ever seen. And he’s great with doing something from nothing, because  South Carolina’s not historically Georgia, LSU or Alabama, and yet he can still pick up some immense recruits and sends some great ones to the pros.

This year, South Carolina goes into the season higher thought-of than ever. So can they win the SEC East title, which they missed out on last year?

Last year

Let’s get this straight: If they hadn’t have had such a sucky SEC conference, they would have won the SEC East. They went 4-0 against their division, but because Georgia managed to avoid playing anyone decent in the SEC West – and South Carolina had games at Auburn and Arkansas – Georgia (who they beat in an absolute classic last year) came out with a better SEC record and hence went to the SEC Championship Game.

Starting QB Stephen Garcia was dismissed in October for yet another bout of ‘overdoing it’,  and star running back Marcus Lattimore managed not to badly injure his knee at Mississippi State, and although the Gamecocks defense was still as good and reliable and usual, the offense never really recovered until the final game of the season when they put 34 on a suddenly-stumbling Clemson.

NFL-wise, Stephon Gilmore, Melvin Ingram, Alshon Jeffrey, Rokevious Watkins, Antonio Allen, and Travian Robertson were all drafted.

TWO BIG QUESTIONS ON OFFENSE

As far as we’re concerned, Connor Shaw’s going to do just fine this season for the Gamecocks. Although there are worries about Shaw’s back, Spurrier’s said he’s going to be fine for Thursday’s SEC opener at Vanderbilt.

The biggest question on everyone’s lips is about catching – who’s going to replace Alshon Jeffrey (762 yards, 8 TDs) as Shaw’s target man? Will it be Ace Sanders, or  Bruce Ellington or Rory Anderson or Nick Jones who will make the headlines? No-one knows? All we do know is that Jeffrey was a hell of a presence for the Gamecocks last year – something that will be needed.

And the other question – if we’re honest – is about Lattimore and his knee. The injury itself at Mississippi State was one to make any right-minded person feel nauseous, and it ruined his season there and then. Some reporters are confident that Lattimore’s back to the old self that made him a Heisman Trophy candidate, but Brandon Wilds and Kenny Miles will also be used to provide bigger support. This could answer a couple of worries.

AND THE DEFENSE?

Actually, the NFL Draft did a pretty good job itself, ridding the Gamecocks of CB Stephon Gilmore and DE Melvin Ingram and LB/SS ‘Spur’ Antonio Allen.

Having said that, there are still imposing figures to destroy offensive lines in giant sophomore DE Jadeveon Clowney (36 tackles, 8 sacks), and DE co-player Devin Taylor (42 tackles, 6 sacks) who are also very quick. This should be fun.

But as we mentioned, the loss of Allen and Gilmore is going to be a major loss for Spurrier’s defensive back unit – and they’ll need CB Akeem Auguste to be healthy and SS DJ Swearinger (USC’s second-highest tackler with 80 tackles, 3 INTs, 1.5 Tackles For Loss) to continue his good form of 2011.

THE 2012 SCHEDULE

August 30 at Vanderbilt

September 8 EAST CAROLINA

September 15 UAB

September 22 MISSOURI

September 29 at Kentucky

October 6 GEORGIA

October 13 at LSU

October 20 at Florida

October 27 TENNESSEE

November 10 ARKANSAS

November 17 WOFFORD

November 24 at Clemson

USC’s first game of the season at Vandy on Thursday isn’t exactly an easy one to start with, and if they get through that game, then we expect them to run the table until they have the ‘triple whammy’ of Georgia and road games at LSU and Florida. Then it’s Tennessee, Arkansas, Wofford and a trip to ancient rivals Clemson.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Spurrier’s lost too much talent not to suffer this year, but the return of Marcus Lattimore, the fact that Connor Shaw’s a better QB than Stephen Garcia and the Clowney/Taylor combo is going to be fantastic on the defensive line is going to make life a little bit easier. Having said that, we think USC will go 10-2 – and miss out once again on a SEC Championship Game spot (despite beating Georgia)

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