Steve Spurrier may put me on his “enemy” list for saying this, considering his aversion to anyone bringing up his age, but it has to at least be fair to say that he is nearing the end or already passed his coaching prime. That’s not an insult, it’s just a fact of life. Last year, I believed that the Gamecocks would win the division and I couldn’t have been more wrong. This year? I think a bowl game is a worthy aspirations for the Head Ball Coach.
Even with the loss of All-American A.J. Cann, the offensive line is probably the strongest unit on the offense, and maybe the whole team. Two tackles with double-digit career starts return. Brandon Shell will be counted on to lead the group as the left tackle and leader in experience with 36 career starts. Junior Cody Waldrop will likely be the guy to replace Cann at left guard and has eight career starts, while sophomore Alan Knott will start at center and brings up the rear in the experience department among starters with seven career starts.
Pharoh Cooper does give the Cocks at least one dynamic playmaker on offense. He plays some “Wildcat” QB (is that still a thing?), is a top-notch receiver, and contributes in the run and return game. Cooper caught 70 passes for 1,152 yards last season and rushed 27 times for 200 yards. One major concern, though, is who catches the ball when Cooper isn’t? Tight end Jerell Adams is a solid option, but he and tailback Brandon Wilds are the only other players on the roster with triple-digit receiving yards last season.
Wilds is going to be a dangerous player in the running game too. As the second back behind Mike Davis last season, Wilds rushed for 570 yards and four touchdowns on 5.4 yards per carry. Sophomore David Williams was even more productive per carry last season going for 5.7 yards per carry and two touchdowns on less than half the carries. These two should give South Carolina yet another formidable one-two punch out of the backfield.
Sophomore Connor Mitch is the odds-on favorite to be the starting quarterback for Spurrier this season, although no official announcement has been made. Mitch threw six passes completing two for nineteen yards last season. Clearly those aren’t fantastic stats, but he’s also the only quarterback on this roster who completed a pass last season. Perry Orth and true freshman Lorenzo Nunez are the other players still competing for the gig.
Middle linebacker Skai Moore led the team in tackles last season and, barring injury, will probably do so again this season. Moore also pitched in some help in coverage recording three interceptions last season. Jonathan Walton also returns to flank Moore once again in 2015 after recording 48.5 tackles as the weakside linebacker in 2014. Junior Larenz Bryant is expected to step-up and start at the vacant starting linebacker spot. Bryant had a mere three tackles a season ago.
The secondary returns pretty much every player of note and adds Kansas transfer Isaiah Johnson to the mix. T.J. Gurley made a significant impact last season at the “Spur” position finishing second on the team with 64.5 tackles. Jordan Diggs and Chris Moody return at safety and Rico McWilliams will start on the right side at cornerback. Chris Lammons didn’t put up much of the way in coverage statistics as a freshman last season, but in the ten games he appeared in he did manage to make himself the second leading tackler among cornerbacks, behind only McWilliams. Lammons will start opposite McWilliams this season.
Now for what is easily the most confusing unit to discuss, probably in the whole conference. South Carolina has two players starting on its defensive line who are half-brothers. Not that bizarre, I mean brothers play together all the time right? Yeah sure, but rarely do they have THE EXACT SAME NAME. Starting defensive end Gerald Dixon led the line in tackles last season with 35.5, and Gerald Dixon, Jr. finished third with 22. If that wasn’t hard enough to keep track of, it also was odd to me that Dixon, Jr. is older than Dixon with no suffix, but there are probably differing opinions on that. Their father, Gerald Dixon, Sr., played for the Gamecocks in the early 90s.
Does this seem harsh? Maybe it is a little bit, but I challenge you to find six surefire wins on the HBC’s schedule. The Citadel and Vanderbilt are the only teams on the schedule that I’d feel confident pretty much guaranteeing a win over. Beyond that, I do think the Cocks win the opener over North Carolina and considering they get Kentucky at home the following week I think they can likely win that one. Outside of that, UCF will be a tough, but winnable game. South Carolina and Georgia have had an odd history since I started school in Athens in 2009, but I do believe that the Dawgs, with revenge on their mind, beat South Carolina at home this season. The Gamecocks also host Florida this season in a game that will probably be the difference between a bowl game or not for both teams, which is something I said earlier today about the Florida vs. Kentucky game, but I believe both of those things to be true. All three of those teams seem to be hovering in the five-to-seven win range, so the games against each other will matter immensely.