CFN: 2009 South Carolina Preview

The grand experiment hasn't exactly worked so far, with South Carolina going 28-21 in four years under Steve Spurrier, and while the national expectations might be low after so much mediocrity...

Head coach: Steve Spurrier
5th year: 28-21
19th year overall: 162-57-2
Returning Lettermen:
Off. 21, Def. 17, ST 2
Lettermen Lost: 28
Ten Best USC Players
1. LB Eric Norwood, Sr.
2. SS Darian Stewart, Sr.
3. DT Nathan Pepper, Sr.
4. FS Chris Culliver, Jr.
5. DT Ladi Ajiboye, Jr.
6. QB Stephen Garcia, Soph.
7. LB Rodney Paulk, Jr.
8. RB Jarvis Giles, Fr.
9. CB Stephon Gilmore, Fr.
10. OT Jarriel King, Jr.

2009 Schedule
CFN Prediction:/span> COMING
2009 Record: 0-0  

9/3 at NC State
9/12 at Georgia
9/19 Florida Atlantic
9/24 Ole Miss
10/3 SC State
10/10 Kentucky
10/17 at Alabama
10/24 Vanderbilt
10/31 at Tennessee
11/7 at Arkansas
11/14 Florida
11/28 Clemson

2008 Schedule
CFN Prediction: 8-4
2008 Record: 7-6

8/30 NC State W 34-0
9/4 at Vanderbilt L 24-17
9/13 Georgia L 14-7
9/20 Wofford W 23-13
9/27 UAB W 26-13
10/4 at Ole Miss W 31-24
10/11 at Kentucky W 24-17
10/18 LSU L 24-17
10/25 OPEN DATE 
11/1 Tennessee W 27-6
11/8 Arkansas W 34-21
11/15 at Florida L 56-6
11/22 OPEN DATE 
11/29 at Clemson L 31-14
Outback Bowl
1/1 Iowa L 31-10

The grand experiment hasn't exactly worked so far, with South Carolina going 28-21 in four years under Steve Spurrier, and while the national expectations might be low after so much mediocrity, the pieces are there for this to be a very interesting, if not special season.

There simply hasn't been any consistency. The offense that was supposed to start to blow up under the Ball Coach, has been inconsistent at times, flat-out stagnant at others, and there hasn't been a whole bunch of funnin' or gunnin' to suggest that 1994 Florida is all of a sudden going to be reincarnated.

There have been turnovers, lots and lots of turnovers, and sacks, sacks, and more sacks. Worst of all, the O got progressively worse as last year went on, and then nothing worked over the final three games of the season as the Gamecocks got outscored 118 to 30 by Florida, Clemson, and Iowa.

Meanwhile, the defense that has put up some great stats under Spurrier has been a bit of a mirage. It's been great against the average offenses, but against the better teams it has had problems. Part of the reason is because of the lack of offensive help, and part of the reason is that it hasn't always been good enough in the big games.

So now the program has some strange and tough questions it'll have to answer if this isn't the big turnaround year the patient Gamecock fans have been waiting so long for. How much more time does South Carolina give Spurrier if he's not getting the job done, and more to the point, how does the program fire Steve Spurrier if it's time to move on? He's Steve Spurrier. USC has fired legendary names before, like Lou Holtz, but that wasn't considered a big deal since the program was having major problems and controversies at the end of his tenure.
USC hasn't been bad under Spurrier; it just hasn't been great.

In Year Five, this is Spurrier's team and Spurrier's program. A full recruiting cycle will have run its course, and he has done a good job of incorporating new, young players into the mix in a hurry. This year, he has the pieces in place to finally win and have the team he wants, but the holes are glaring.

First, nothing happens unless the O line is better. A nightmare over the last two years in pass protection, everything breaks down when the Spurrier quarterbacks are getting popped. There are too many mistakes, no running game to fall back on, and not enough big plays to make up for the errors.

Next, the cornerbacks have to be fantastic right out of the box. With the loss of three key defensive backs from last year, USC needs true freshman Stephon Gilmore and relatively untested sophomore Akeem Auguste to play like stars right away.

And then there's the quarterback situation. The quick hook and the quirky rotations that worked so well at times throughout Spurrier's career killed last season's offensive production. Yes, the line had a lot to do with that, but none of the quarterbacks were ever allowed to make a mistake, getting yanked far too quickly. This year, that won't be a question with Stephen Garcia the No. 1, and there won't be a No. 1A to push for the job. Garcia has to be able to have a meltdown stretch now and then.

No, this isn't going an SEC East title season, but it could be the type of year that shows that there might be some life in Spurrier and the program going forward. At the very least, South Carolina football will be more interesting than last year, and it'll likely be far more relevant.

What to watch for on offense: The running backs. The receivers need to find a No. 1 target to replace Kenny McKinley, the veteran line has to be night-and-day better, and Garcia has to step up and play up to his talent level. But the Gamecocks need a running game, too. It's easy to forget that Spurrier's great Florida teams could run as well as pass, and now he has some good young backs to work with. True freshman Jarvis Giles is the gamebreaker missing from the attack since Spurrier arrived, while Eric Baker can also move. Brian Maddox will be a serviceable back to do the dirty work while Giles and Baker get the limelight. The nation's 112th ranked running game will be far better.

What to watch for on defense: The corners. The secondary will be fine with the loss of leading tackler Emmanuel Cook, who left early to go to the NFL; Darian Stewart might be a better player at strong safety. However, losing Stoney Woodson and Captain Munnerlyn, who also bolted early, could be a killer for the nation's No. 2 pass defense. Gilmore is going to be an all-star, but it's asking way too much for him to be a shut-down SEC star right away. Auguste has good potential, but if he isn't great, the defense is going to have a large hole it won't be able to fill.

The team will be far better if … the turnovers stop, or at least slow down. The team isn't good enough to get blasted in the turnover battle every week, and it's amazing the Gamecocks were able to get out to a 7-3 record with all the mistakes. The 27 interceptions thrown were two more than SMU, finishing last in the nation by far, while the 38 turnovers ties Washington State for dead-last. If the Gamecocks can merely be dead-even in turnover margin they'll have a big year.

The Schedule: After the way last year ended, South Carolina needs a hot start but that could be a problem going to NC State to start and with a trip to Georgia to follow. If that wasn't bad enough, Ole Miss comes to Columbia for the second conference game. There's a tough stretch of three road games in four weeks facing Alabama, Tennessee, and Arkansas wrapped around a date with Vanderbilt. Just when the Gamecocks are getting over their toughest stretch of the year, they get Florida. On the plus side, there's a week off between the Gator game and the rivalry showdown against Clemson.

Best Offensive Player: Sophomore QB Stephen Garcia. It's easy to forget that these are young college kids, and young college kids make big mistakes. Garcia's off-the-field issues were more than just boys-will-be-boys problems, and now he appears to be a changed man. He's the leader of the offense and Spurrier's future is tied in to how the multi-faceted playmaker progresses. He can't press and he can't try to win games all by himself, but he has the potential to get hot and carry the team through some rough patches now and then.

Best Defensive Player: Senior LB Eric Norwood. The SEC's best defensive player is either Tennessee safety Eric Berry or Florida linebacker Brandon Spikes, but Norwood has to at least be in the discussion. After putting off the NFL for one more year, Norwood should be one of the nation's best all-around linebackers with a devastating burst to the quarterback to go along with his consistency against the run.

Key player to a successful season: Senior WR Moe Brown. Garcia is the real key to the season with the offensive tackles a close second and the corners third, but the offense also needs to find a steady go-to target to work around. With star Kenny McKinley and tight end Jared Cook gone, Brown has to become a consistent pass catcher who can make the routine play as well as the big deep catch. He has the speed and experience, and now he has to come up with the production to make the offense more dangerous.

The season will be a success if ... the Gamecocks win nine games, beats Clemson and comes up with a win over Alabama or Florida. Going to a bowl will be a no-brainer if there isn't a rash of injuries, but the team needs to do more than just get a 13th game. It needs to beat its arch-rival and it needs to do something extremely splashy. With a huge upset win over Florida or Alabama and a win in a decent bowl, 2010 South Carolina will be 2009 Ole Miss as far as national hype.

Key game: Nov. 28 vs. Clemson. After last year's embarrassing loss, South Carolina has to quickly right the ship in the rivalry battle or there will plenty of angst-ridden Gamecock fans who might be ready for a change if the rest of the season isn't a success. Spurrier has to show that his teams can close well and can improve as this year closes out.

2008 Fun Stats:
- South Carolina first quarter scoring: 44 - South Carolina second quarter scoring: 102
- Rushing touchdowns: Opponents 23 - South Carolina 7
- Sacks: Opponents 39 for 232 yards - South Carolina 31 for 207 yards Top Stories