The 'Cocks won some games they shouldn't have. A late drive against UGA lifted the 'Cocks to a 14-9 victory. A missed field goal loomed large as MSU lost in what many considered an upset to USC. The folks at South Carolina pretty much assume a loss to UT and UF, so they have to make the most of their other conference games. While USC has experienced a resurgence, they haven't taken the big step by beating their SEC Eastern big brothers. The 'Cocks still aren't ready to take that step this year either, but Holtz will scare the dickens out of some folks along the way.
USC had the luxury last year of affording some playing time to QB heir apparent Corey Jenkins. Jenkins, another former minor league baseball player, has great athletic ability, but struggles with accuracy on a fairly regular basis. He brings the running element back to an offense that had gotten used to the steady Petty. Jenkins has explosive running ability, but is an athlete playing quarterback. Expect some long over throws and some forced picks. He should get better as the season progresses. As long as they stay out of long 3rd downs, Jenkins can move the sticks. He is very efficient on possession plays as Bulldog fans should know all to well, as Jenkins essentially made the 3rd quarter disappear.
Ryan Brewer has done it all at USC. His legacy is firmly established despite not having gaudy numbers. Brewer has been there when needed and has made the grunt type plays. In fact, you may recall the one man MSU's Banks had to beat on his way to the endzone was Brewer. Brewer stripped and recovered the ball, so instead of an MSU 21-16 win, we have a USC 16-14 win. The little things kill and Brewer does most of them exceptionally well. Look for a big year this season. He will line up all over the place and will get some time at tailback, but look for big bruiser Andrew Pinnock to get a lot of the short yardage calls. Pinnock is a rolling brick house and has outstanding speed for a big man. The Gamecocks have some young talent coming in, but they need development.
The biggest concern on offense has to be the WRs. No experience returns and two starters need to emerge. James Adkisson was expected to be the go-to guy last year, but sat out the season with an injury. If he can return as healthy as expected, he should be the difference-maker as well as the target of choice. The rest of the depth chart is anybody's guess. There will be a lot of shuffling before the lineup is settled, but the fact that USC should have more of a ground attack should give the WRs a chance to catch up.
Three starters return on a pretty solid offensive line. Cedric Williams is still there and the line has improved with him every season. He is the best of the bunch and has tons of experience around him. RT and center need to be replaced, but it shouldn't be difficult. C.J. Frye should be the man handling the snaps and 6-6 Watts Sanderson should hold down the all-important right tackle spot. This group should give Jenkins a great chance to learn on the job.
Only four starters return for Charlie Strong's defensive unit. This group should reverse some of the fortunes from the last two years. Some players must step up if USC is to make a return to a mid tier bowl game. Depth is an issue down front and in the secondary.
Big Langston Moore returns as the nose tackle drain plug. He is anchored by senior Dennis Quinn at DE. Shaun Smith should start at the other end, but he is being pushed hard by sophomore George Gause.
The linebackers return a few regulars which should make a difference. Jermaine Lemon returns and must be the captain of the corps if they are to compete. I am high on Jeremiah Garrison and he should have a break out season after a decent sophomore campaign. He has some big shoes to fill with the graduation of Kalimba Edwards. The other LB spot is too close to call.
The spur backers, it seems everybody calls them something different, are in good shape with head hunter Rashad Faison returning as the man quarterbacks better find before the snap. The other spot will be manned by senior Johnathan Martin. It will be Martin's turn to shine and he may want to do it quickly with youngsters like Jamacia Jackson waiting in the wings.
The secondary returns the best player available from last year's squad in Deandre Eiland, but he will not have the luxury of just providing run support this year. With the loss of all-everything corners Sheldon Brown and Andre Goodman, Eiland must play a little farther off the line of scrimmage. If the corner's develop, which is a big "IF", the D should be solid, but there will be some growing pains before that happens.
New Mexico State
South Carolina has a very good chance of winning 3, if not all 4 non-conference games. This will be huge towards becoming bowl eligible. If we assume losses to UT and UF, as we all should, then USC just needs to go 4-2 against the rest of the conference to have 7 to 8 wins again. That is certainly doable! There are a lot of evenly matched games for South Carolina. They are on even footing with all the SEC, except the Vols and Gators. Look for Georgia to pick on the Carolina corners despite the fact that they meet in Columbia. The four weeks between Vandy, MSU, UK, and LSU will define the season. USC must win 3 of these if they hope to go bowling outside of Louisiana. Prospects look good for that to happen while the worst case scenario is a split.
Holtz will have these kids thinking that nobody expects them to win and that their game with Temple may have national championship implications. Holtz can make any team look scary. I remember last year before our game he told ESPN they may not even show up because MSU was so much more superior. Holtz knows what makes these kids tick. He can get them going and he never gives the other school bulletin board material. I guess he learned that lesson when Colorado caught wind of Holtz trashing them during a bowl game practice. That's another story for another time. It's a good one, so look it up if you can. I think USC will be competitive to the point that nobody can overlook them. They will be able to control the time of possession, and in most cases the line of scrimmage.
You just never know about South Carolina. They went from 0-11 to consecutive Outback bowl wins. Who knows what other rabbits the old magician has in store for the SEC.
Until next week,
Steve Robertson is a free-lance correspondent who writes The Robertson Report for the premium site portion of Gene's Page. Steve's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.