Today's roundtable features staff writer David Porter, Publisher Wes Mitchell and guest bloggers Leftover Hot Dog and Life of a Gamecock.
Please make sure you click their names and frequent their blogs too - you won't be disappointed.
Let's get down to it...
IT'S PRETTY OBVIOUS THERE HAVE BEEN TIMES SOUTH CAROLINA HASN'T BEEN ABLE TO DEAL WITH HIGH EXPECTATIONS – HOW PREPARED IS THIS TEAM TO DEAL WITH A NO. 12 RANKING AND THE MOST ANTICIPATED SEASON EVER?
PORTER: Obviously we will find out a lot about this team and if they're capable of handling the pressure in the first two weeks of the season. One thing is for sure, all the players and coaches have said all the right things throughout fall camp. With leaders like Marcus Lattimore, Alshon Jeffery, Stephon Gilmore, Travian Robertson, and even Stephen Garcia I think they will have the team ready.
MITCHELL: Let's be honest, some of those teams with high rankings by their names weren't exactly worthy of the recognition. And Spurrier tried to warn fans with some of his early teams that his players weren't putting in the necessary offseason work in to be successful. Now working hard alone won't win championships. But working hard and talent combined with a little chemistry can go a long way. It doesn't hurt when your best player is also your hardest worker. There's a lot to like about this team. I feel pretty comfortable in saying that the games they lose this year will simply be because they weren't the best team on the field on that given night and not because of any high expectations.
LOHD: I feel they have all the right ingredients to deal with the hype and perform at a high level. USC has excellent leadership to go with the talent. The biggest thing for this team is to stay focused. One game at a time is what the coaches need to preach. If they can do that and not worry about individual stats or rankings then this could be a big year.
LIFE: This is a different breed of South Carolina football. Coach Spurrier and staff have done a good job at limiting the expectations by making the players stay focused on the task at hand. There's no looking ahead towards Georgia, the SEC, or Clemson. This team is focused on East Carolina and trying to find a way to win. He's got help from team players like Marcus Lattimore and Alshon Jeffery and when your best players are also the hardest workers then that attitude will filter down and this team will be ready.
OTHER THAN CLOWNEY, WHICH SOUTH CAROLINA FRESHMAN MAKES THE BIGGEST IMPACT THIS SEASON AND WHY?
PORTER: For me it's obviously Damiere Byrd. With his speed and ability to elude defenders, he could have a big season. Also, though not a true freshman, look for Bruce Ellington to have a good season as a receiver and quarterback in the Wildcat.
MITCHELL: I'm guessing there will be a lot of Damiere Byrds listed here (Okay, I already looked). While Byrd is probably the better answer based on current information, I'll go out on a limb and say that Shon Carson pushes his way into the rotation and proves to be a valuable backup to Lattimore as the season progresses.
LOHD: Damiere Byrd. Speed is what he has and speed is what the team needs. Byrd should present a viable option as outlet for the quarterback in the passing game and relieve the pressure that Alshon Jeffery will face. Look for him to show some ‘wow' moments as he is a playmaker.
LIFE: Damiere Byrd appears to be the freshman that can have the biggest impact this season. He's shown blazing speed at the wide receiver position but has shown he can get separation and run good routes. He's got good hands and can be used in a variety of ways. I also think his impact will be felt in special teams as a potential kick returner/punt returner and could add another level of speed the Gamecocks have not had in a long time.
WHILE ALMOST EVERY ASPECT OF THE PROGRAM HAS IMPROVED UNDER SPURRIER, SPECIAL TEAMS HAVE STILL BE INCREDIBLY INCONSISTENT. WHAT DO YOU EXPECT OUT OF JOHN BUTLER'S UNIT IN HIS FIRST SEASON HERE?
PORTER: The team has spent more time on special teams in practice than most teams. More important than that, they're getting some of their best athletes out there. I tend to agree with Spurrier's prediction that there will be a special teams touchdown this season. Other than that, all eyes will be on Jay Wooten and Joey Scribner-Howard to see how they handle the kicking and punting duties.
MITCHELL: Spurrier has predicted the special teams will score a touchdown this season. And for some reason I believe him. Butler's units won't be great right off the bat but I do expect improvement. Butler has emphasized fundamentals - that and effort is a lot of the battle in special teams.
LOHD: It is the one area that is a question mark going into the season and more so regarding the specialists. Especially at punter. Seems the punter, whichever one you want to name, is not consistent which is a issue. One kick goes 45 yards with good hang time then the next is a 27 yard shank. Not the kind of performances that wins close games in the SEC. I really hope the special teams steps up big time in clutch situations. I do feel this is the year for a return to go for a touchdown and I am looking at you Stephon Gilmore. My expectations for John Butler in year one is not to screw up. Don't be the Achilles heel for Carolina.
LIFE: John Butler has the target on his back. Coach Spurrier has predicted a special team's touchdown so Butler will need to produce. However I don't think Coach Spurrier would throw that kind of prediction out there unless he wasn't comfortable with his special teams coach.
The talent level has increased behind the starters which can help the special teams out tremendously. Add in Bruce Ellington and Damiere Byrd as potential returners and there is some impressive speed out there. I expect the assignments to be much better in coverage on returns. The kicking game remains a bit of a question mark but he seems confident in kicker Jay Wooten and punter Joey Scribner-Howard.
SOUTH CAROLINA COULD CONCEIVABLY BE FAVORED IN EVERY GAME OTHER THAN MAYBE THE ARKANSAS CONTEST – WHICH TEAM IS MOST LIKELY TO SURPRISE THE GAMECOCKS AND GIVE THEM EXTRA TROUBLE OR UPSET THEM?
PORTER: Mississippi State. A win over Georgia in week gives the Gamecocks a great chance of entering that game 6-0. Depending on how MSU does early on, they could enter the game a top 15 team as well. Dan Mullen has turned that program around in a hurry and they could be a darkhorse in the West.
MITCHELL: Give me Tennessee. Arkansas and Mississippi State will obviously be tough games. But the one that just seems to stand out as a possible upset is that trip to Rocky Top. The Vols are always tough to beat there and South Carolina didn't play particularly well in a 14-point win last season. Derek Dooley will have the Vols ready for this one.
LOHD: Mississippi State. USC gets the Bulldogs on the road and the cowbells will be ringing. Tough atmosphere against a very well coached squad. The game will boil down to which defense can stuff the run. USC's offensive line has to shine in the game or it could be a long ride back to Columbia.
LIFE: The Tennessee game is one that I've had my eye on as a potential upset. Knoxville is always a tough place to play and I expect the Tennessee offense to be improved with QB Tyler Bray, WR's Da'Rick Rogers and Justin Hunter, and RB Tauren Poole. There is some big play potential there and they did give the Gamecocks fits through the air in 2010. The defense could be shaky with the loss of Janzen Jackson but overall watch out for this one. The game is in-between Mississippi State and Arkansas during that three-game road stretch and the Gamecocks will need focus to come out with a win.
WHO'S THE PLAYER NO ONE IS TALKING ABOUT THAT WILL PLAY A BIG PART IN THE SEASON?
PORTER: With the departure of Tori Gurley to the NFL after last season I expect Jason Barnes to have a good season. This is a guy that had 53 catches in his first two seasons. After only recording six receptions in 2010, Barnes said he has worked extremely hard in the off-season and wants to have a big year in his final season.
MITCHELL: There's so much great Gamecocks coverage on the web that it's hard for ANYBODY to really surprise. But I'll give you two: Jay Wooten and Justice Cunningham. Wooten will continue the recent trend of good kickers at Carolina. And Cunningham will turn out to be a true unsung hero for this team, while also making a few timely grabs when the defense is keying on other Carolina targets.
LOHD: T.J. Johnson is the one that to me will play a big role this season. He is the leader of the offensive line and he will be looked to for leadership and to lay down some key blocks. Expect him to be All-SEC.
LIFE: It's hard to find someone who hasn't been mentioned a lot but this might be a little bit of a surprise. Fullback Dalton Wilson should play an important role in this offense being a lead blocker for Lattimore and the other running backs. Spurrier thinks he's worthy of a scholarship and is a good lead blocker. I don't expect him to put up many offensive statistics but we all know how important Patrick DiMarco was last year and the role he played in the run game improvement for USC. Wilson could be a key player in continuing that momentum from 2010.
PORTER: 10-2 is a very reasonable record to me. I'm not sure this team can run the table, but they are capable of doing that. I think the Gamecocks lose two games, but will still face Alabama for the SEC Championship and will be playing in New Orleans in January.
MITCHELL: A nine-win season would be a disappointment. Let that sink in for a second. There may be no better statement than that one to show just how far the South Carolina program has come under Steve Spurrier. 10-2 just feels right doesn't it? 10-2 and another trip to the SEC Championship game to face Alabama. After that... my crystal ball gets fuzzy...
LOHD: Worst case is 9-3 and best case is 11-1 in my view. I feel that 10-2 is most likely with losses somewhere along the way from two teams with this group: Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi State and Florida. USC wins the SEC East. Loses to Alabama in the SEC Championship. Lattimore gets a invite to New York and finishes fourth in the Heisman ballot. USC wins versus Wisconsin in the BCS Sugar Bowl and closes out a great year with a record of 11-3.
LIFE: My season prediction is that the Gamecocks finish 11-1 with the lone loss coming against Arkansas. USC wins the SEC East for a second straight year and plays in the SEC Championship game. The Gamecocks fall to Alabama and receive an at-large bid to the Sugar Bowl.
A pretty good season if you ask me! I honestly believe that if the Gamecocks don't pick up double-digit wins this year it will be considered a disappointment. 9 wins was nice last year but the opportunity is there for more this season with our talent and schedule that we have in place. My expectations are pretty high for the Gamecocks.