Entering the third season under
coach Steve Spurrier, the South Carolina Gamecocks have emerged as a legitimate
power in the Southeastern Conference Eastern division, winning seven regular
season contests before topping
In 2007, Spurrier, who turned the Florida Gators into a national powerhouse in the 90s, and the Gamecocks will need to replace five starters on an offense that emerged as the third-best in the country at 395 yards per game last year, while the defense will remain largely in tact, welcoming back ten starters this fall.
With the amount of experience returning, South Carolina could put itself into a position to make a run at the SEC title game in Atlanta, but it will be an uphill battle, as South Carolina owns one of the toughest schedules in the country, playing on the road against Georgia, LSU, Tennessee and Arkansas and hosting contests against rival Clemson and defending National Champion Florida.
As an offensive unit, the Gamecocks managed 5,135 total yards, one of only four teams in the conference to eclipse the 5,000 mark.
Returning this fall to spearhead
At fullback, senior Lanard Stafford
comes back as the starter, though he will not get many touches, as
Senior Ryan Brown may also play a role for the Gamecocks at fullback after making the switch for his starting defensive end position during the off-season.
South Carolina's receiving corps welcomes back one starter from last season, but will need to find a replacement for the now-departed Sidney Rice, one of the most productive players for the 2006 Gamecocks with 1,090 yards and 10 touchdowns on 72 receptions.
The likely replacement for Rice at wide out will be junior transfer Larry Freeman, the man atop the spring depth chart.
Starting at the opposite receiver spot will once again be Kenny McKinley, a junior who was second on the team last year with 51 catches for 880 yards and five touchdowns.
Tight end Andy Boyd will also serve as a veteran in the passing attack after recording one touchdown as the starter last year.
As the second string quarterback last year, Mitchell saw time in nine games, but led the team in passing completions, attempts and yardage, finishing the season with 1,789 yards, 10 touchdowns and an average of 198.8 passing yards per game.
The biggest question facing the
On the defensive side of the ball,
The defensive front will once again consist of juniors Joel Reaves and Nathan Pepper at the tackles, while the ends will feature new but experienced players in sophomore Eric Norwood and senior Jordin Lindsey due to last years regulars making position changes.
At linebacker, senior Jasper Brinkley will serve as the defensive leader in the middle, totaling 107 tackles to lead the Gamecocks during his junior year.
Casper Brinkley made the jump to linebacker from defensive end, where he managed 44 tackles and seven sacks last season.
Paulk recorded 36 tackles while playing in every game as a freshman in 2006.
The other corner will be filled by a new starter this season after the departure of Fred Bennett, with the leading candidate for the job being sophomore Captain Munnerlyn. A year ago, Munnerlyn managed 36 tackles and a pair of interceptions in 12 appearances.
On special teams, junior Ryan Succop will be back this fall as
As a sophomore, Succop made 16 of 20 field goal attempts, including two longer than 50 yards, and was 37 for 39 on extra points. On punts, he averaged 43.7 yards on 29 attempts.
Kenny McKinley will be back as the
Gamecock's punt return man after averaging 8.9 yards per return last year, while
- Matt Dearman
All-Time Series: 14-2-1
First Meeting: 1930, LSU 7,
Last Meeting: 2003, LSU 33,
Location: Columbia, S.C.
Stadium: Williams-Brice (80,250)
Head Coach: Steve Spurrier, 15-10 at USC, 2 years; 157-50-2 overall, 17 years
2006 IN REVIEW
2006 Record: 8-5, 3-5 SEC (5th East)
Final '06 Ranking: Not ranked
Returning Starters: 17; 6 offense, 9 defense, kicker, punter
Last Bowl Appearance: 2006
Last Conference Championship: 1969,
2006 STAT BREAKDOWN (SEC/NCAA)
Total Offense: 295.0 ypg (3/28)
Rushing Offense: 144.3 ypg (6/52)
Passing Offense: 250.7 ypg(4/24)
Scoring Offense: 26.6 ppg (6/44)
Total Defense: 336.8 ypg (9/46)
Rushing Defense: 146.8 ypg (9/77)
Pass Defense: 190.0 ypg (8/22)
Scoring Defense: 18.7 ppg (6/29)
Rushing: Cory Boyd – 164-823, 8 TD, 5.0 ypc, 68.6 ypg
Passing: Blake Mitchell – 202-135, 1789, 10 TD, 6 Int., 198.8
Receiving: Kenny McKinley – 51-880, 5 TD, 67.7 ypg
Tackles: Jasper Brinkley – 107
Interceptions: Stoney Woodson – 3
Tackles for Loss: Jasper Brinkley – 14.5
Date Opponent '06 Result
S-1 LOUISIANA-LAFAYETTE ---
S-22 at LSU ---
O-20 VANDERBILT W, 31-13
N-24 CLEMSON W, 31-28
Offense at a glance:
Questions still remain on the offensive line and at the wide receiver position. USC must replace the three interior starters and fill the void left by All-SEC receiver Sidney Rice's departure to the NFL.
The Gamecocks will feature one of the better backfields in the league with fifth-year senior quarterback Blake Mitchell and an experienced running back tandem in Cory Boyd and Mike Davis.
If Carolina can develop some chemistry along the line early on, and find a few receivers to complement returning starter Kenny McKinley, the offense, which averaged more than 450 yards and 32.6 points per game over the final five games of last season, has the potential to build on its success from the end of the 2006 campaign and become one of the top offenses in the SEC.
Defense at a glance:
Led by All-SEC middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley, Freshman All-America defensive end Eric Norwood and a host of athletic newcomers on the defensive line, the Gamecocks figure to improve on their struggles against the run in 2007 and generate more pressure on opposing quarterbacks with what looks to be a much improved pass rush.
Highly-touted freshmen Ladi Ajiboye, Travian Robertson and Clifton Geathers made their presence felt on the
defensive front in the spring, and will be joined by 5-star defensive end signee
Cliff Matthews in the fall. The USC secondary also looks improved with the
return of starting free safety Brandon Isaac from injury, the continued
improvement of returning Freshman All-SEC strong safety Emanuel Cook, and the
maturation of cornerbacks
The Gamecocks have featured a bend-but-don't-break style of defense over the past two seasons, but with more depth, experience and playmakers across the board in 2007, defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix will look to get his unit off the field quicker and force more turnovers in an effort to get the ball back to the offense more often.
- Jonathan Jolley, GamecockAnthem.com