CFN: South Carolina Preview

14-11 and also-ran status over the last two seasons isn't exactly what everyone had in mind when Steve Spurrier took over the job three years ago, and now it's make-or-break time with the rest of the SEC getting better and better.

- 2008 South Carolina Defense | 2008 South Carolina Depth Chart
- 2007 CFN South Carolina Preview | 2006 CFN South Carolina Preview

14-11 and also-ran status over the last two seasons isn’t exactly what everyone had in mind when Steve Spurrier took over the job three years ago, and now it’s make-or-break time with the rest of the SEC getting better and better.

After a rough collapse over the second half of last year losing the final five games, the pressure is on Spurrier to finally show off some of the magic that made him such a legend in the first place. On the plus side, this should be his best Gamecock team yet by far. 

Head coach: Steve Spurrier
4th year: 21-15
18th year overall: 155-51-2
Returning Lettermen:
Off. 26, Def. 26, ST 2
Lettermen Lost: 18
Ten Best USC Players
1. LB Jasper Brinkley, Sr.
2. WR Kenny McKinley, Sr.
3. CB Captain Munnerlyn, Jr.
4. LB Eric Norwood, Jr.
5. TE Jared Cook, Jr.
6. SS Emanuel Cook, Jr.
7. DT Ladi Ajiboye, Soph.
8. PK/P Ryan Succop, Sr.
9. OT Jamon Meredith, Sr.
10. CB Carlos Thomas, Sr.

2008 Schedule
CFN Prediction: COMING
2008 Record: 0-0

Aug. 30 NC State
Sept. 4 at Vanderbilt
Sept. 13 Georgia
Sept. 20 Wofford
Sept. 27 UAB
Oct. 4 at Ole Miss
Oct. 11 at Kentucky
Oct. 18 LSU
Oct. 25 OPEN DATE 
Nov. 1 Tennessee
Nov. 8 Arkansas
Nov. 15 at Florida
Nov. 22 OPEN DATE 
Nov. 29 at Clemson

2007 Schedule
CFN Prediction: 8-4
2007 Record: 6-

Sept. 1 UL Lafayette W 28-14
Sept. 8 at Georgia W 16-12
Sept. 15
S Carolina St W 38-3
Sept. 22 at LSU L 28-16
Sept. 29
Miss St W 38-21
Oct. 4 Kentucky W 38-23
Oct. 13 at No Carolina W 21-15
Oct. 20 Vanderbilt L 17-6
Oct. 27 at Tenn. L 27-24 OT
Nov. 3 at Arkansas L 48-36
Nov. 10
Florida L 51-31
Nov. 24 Clemson L 23-21

If everyone stays healthy (not a given considering this was a major problem last season), this could be a sleeper in the SEC race with solid replacements for the losses on offense and a loaded defense helped by LB Jasper Brinkley, who chose to return for his senior year after suffering a knee injury that cost him all of last year.

And now Spurrier has to be Spurrier.

There's already talk about retirement, at least by the media, while Spurrier says he'll be around for a while, the play-calling duties have been delegated to Steve Spurrier Jr., the equivalent of hearing Frank Sinatra Jr. sing My Way, and there's a general sense that if doesn't start happening now, the Spurrier era could start to go down as a big disappointment.

The recruiting has been strong, but it hasn't been as good as other SEC teams. The margin for error is lower at South Carolina, every one who is supposed to produce, needs to, but the biggest key will be to get everything settled.

There can't be the normal game of musical quarterbacks that Spurrier normally likes to play, but on the flip side, someone has to step up and take the job. The offensive line has to stay healthy and there has to be the same starting lineup from one game to the next. A number two wide receiver has to show up, more of a pass rush has to come from the D line, the run defense has to be better, and the moves around the defensive front seven need to work.

Even if everything goes USC's way and all the questions are answered, will it be enough to beat the Floridas and Georgias of the SEC world? Gamecock fans would like to find out.

What to watch for on offense: The quarterbacks. What would a Spurrier-led team be without a quarterback controversy, and the Gamecocks have a doozy. Tommy Beecher is the safe, steady option coming out of spring ball, but almost no one believes he'll be the sure-thing starter come opening day. Chris Smelley has the talent, but he can't produce on a regular basis. Stephen Garcia is the best of the three options, but he can't stay out of off-the-field trouble. True freshman Aramis Hillary might get a shot at a little time to throw his athleticism into the mix, while excellent recruit Reid McCollum will redshirt. Get all that?

What to watch for on defense: The swap. Eric Norwood turned into a whale of an all-around defensive end last season finishing second on the team in tackles while growing into an elite pass rusher. Now he'll move to linebacker, while Cliff Matthews, an outside linebacker last season, will move to the end. Potentially a special pass rusher, Matthews should shine in the new role, while Norwood will have more room to move on the weakside.

The team will be far better if … it stays healthy. The defense lost heart-and-soul LB Jasper Brinkley to a knee injury, everyone in the secondary was (or is) banged up, and the O line struggled to have the same starting lineup two weeks in a row. There are enough next-level caliber talents to build around, and good speed and athleticism in most spots, to battle with anyone in the SEC. But if there's an injury problem again, things could go into the tank like they did last year.

The Schedule: The Gamecocks had better win early or it could be an ugly year with a brutal finishing kick. It's very possible LSU, Tennessee, Florida and Clemson will all be in the top ten at some point, with the Tigers and Gators likely to hang around the top five for most of the season, and USC gets all four of those teams, along with Arkansas, in the final five games. Outside of the trip to The Swamp, the SEC road slate is a relative breeze going to Vanderbilt, Ole Miss and Kentucky, but taking advantage of the home game against Georgia is a must.

Best Offensive Player: Senior WR Kenny McKinley. Woe to the receiving corps if McKinley goes down. He caught 77 passes for 968 yards and nine touchdowns last year, which where 50 more catches, 653 more yards, and six more touchdowns than any other wide receiver. There are some good options to help the cause, but McKinley is the star the offense will need to work around.

Best Defensive Player: Senior LB Jasper Brinkley. Coming off the knee injury, the jury is still out on whether or not he can be the same sort of big-time All-America playmaker. Even so, a banged up, lesser Brinkley would still be one of the SEC's better linebackers. CB Captain Munnerlyn, LB Eric Norwood, and DT Ladi Ajiboye will all be in the mix for first-team All-SEC honors, too.

Key player to a successful season: Junior QB Tommy Beecher ... or Smelley, or Garcia, or Hillary. No team coached by Steve Spurrier should be 71st in the nation in passing efficiency. The offense needs a leader and someone to be the steady hand through the rough SEC waters, and he can't be constantly looking over his shoulder. Good luck with that.

The season will be a success if ... the Gamecocks win nine games. They won eight in 2006, and now they have to show that things are moving forward under Spurrier. It'll take a few upsets to get to nine wins and no slip ups, but if everyone healthy, the team is good enough to beat Georgia or Tennessee at home. It's time to make a statement, and nine wins would do it.

Key game: Sept. 13 vs. Georgia. Beating the Dawgs between the hedges last year was nice, and it led to a nice 6-1 start and plenty of excitement before the bottom dropped out, but winning this year would be even bigger. After starting out with NC State and at Vanderbilt, there's a realistic chance to start out 7-0 if USC can pull off a second straight win over Mark Richt's boys. And then comes the home game against LSU to kick off a brutal second half of the year.

2007 Fun Stats: 
- Rushing yards: Opponents 209.2 – South Carolina 113.7
- Third quarter scoring: South Carolina 79 – Opponents 47
- Sacks: Opponents 31 for 216 yards – South Carolina 21 for 152 yards Top Stories