Season opener set

The 12th-ranked University of South Carolina Gamecock football team opens its 2011 season Saturday night in Charlotte against the East Carolina Pirates. Game time is set for 7 p.m. ET and the contest will be televised on FSN. Tickets, priced at $60 each, are still available through TicketMaster.com.

QUICK HITS

* South Carolina is 77-36-4 (.675) in season openers. The Gamecocks have won 11 consecutive season-opening games, dating back to the 2000 season.

* Head coach Steve Spurrier is 20-1 all-time in season openers as a collegiate head coach. His only season-opening loss, ironically, was a 27-21 loss to the Carolina Gamecocks in Columbia on Sept. 2, 1989, while the head coach at Duke University.

* The Gamecocks were picked by the media as the favorites to win the SEC Eastern Division title this year. It's the first time that Carolina has ever held that distinction. In fact, they had never been picked higher than third prior to this season. The Gamecocks were picked for third in both 2009 and 2010 after a seven-year stretch in which they were tabbed for a fourth-place finish.

* The Gamecocks are playing their third-straight neutral site game. Their last two games of the 2010 season were both played in the Georgia Dome, first against Auburn in the SEC Championship, then against Florida State in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

* Head coach Steve Spurrier is a perfect 41-0 all-time against schools outside of BCS automatic qualifying conferences, including a 15-0 mark since coming to South Carolina. He will have three opportunities to extend that mark in 2011, against East Carolina, Navy and The Citadel.

A LITTLE HISTORY: 2011 marks the 118th season of intercollegiate football at the University of South Carolina, dating back to 1892. It is the 105th-consecutive year in which South Carolina has competed on the gridiron. The University did not field a team in either 1893 or 1906. Carolina owns an all-time record of 543-541-44.

SEC HISTORY: The 2011 season marks South Carolina's 20th year in the Southeastern Conference. South Carolina and Arkansas joined the league prior to the 1992 campaign. The Gamecocks earned their first SEC Eastern Division title in the 2010 season.

VS. EAST CAROLINA: The Gamecocks lead the all-time series vs. East Carolina by a 10-5 margin. South Carolina won each of the first eight meetings between the two squads from 1977-1990. ECU has won five of the last seven contests, with the last game coming in the 1999 season.

SPURRIER VS. ECU: Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier has never faced the Prates as a head coach.

SCOUTING THE PIRATES: East Carolina posted a 6-7 mark in 2010 in Ruffin McNeill's first year at the helm, including a 51-20 loss to Maryland in the Military Bowl, held at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C. Quarterback Dominique Davis returns to lead an offense that averaged nearly 37 points per game while racking up over 437 yards of offense, ranking in the top 25 in the country in both categories. Defensively, they surrendered 44 points per contest while giving up nearly 480 yards of offense, ranking 119th and 120, respectively, among Division I programs.

BROTHERLY LOVE: It will be a big day for Leonard and Sonya Paulk when they have the opportunity to watch two sons, South Carolina sixth-year senior linebacker Rodney Paulk, and East Carolina junior defensive back Leonard Paulk III. Both of the Paulks played for coach Jay Frye at Richland Northeast High School in Columbia.

GAMECOCKS VS. C-USA: Carolina owns a 19-13 record in 32 meetings against teams who currently play in Conference USA, including a 10-5 mark against ECU. The Gamecocks are also 3-0 against UCF, 2-0 versus UAB, 1-0 against Southern Miss and Tulsa, 2-2 against Memphis, 1-2 versus Houston, 0-1 against Marshall and 0-3 versus Tulane. Carolina was a 41-13 winner over Southern Miss in last year's season opener and has won its last five games against C-USA foes.

OPENING AWAY FROM HOME: The Gamecocks are opening their season away from home for the third time in the Spurrier Era. They won at Mississippi State, 15-0, to open the 2006 campaign, and won by a 7-3 count at NC State in 2009. The Gamecocks have won their last three season-opening games away from home (also a 31-6 win at Vanderbilt in 2004), with the last loss coming in 1999, a 10-0 setback at NC State.

THEY'RE BACK: The Gamecocks welcome 45 letterwinners back to begin the 2011 season. The 45 lettermen consist of 20 offensive players, 21 defensive players and four specialists.

SQUAD BREAKDOWN: The Gamecocks have 111 players listed on their 2011 fall roster. The squad breakdown consists of 16 seniors, 26 juniors, 19 sophomores, 14 redshirt freshmen and 36 true freshmen.

FOR STARTERS: The Gamecocks list 13 returning starters from the 2010 squad (seven on offense, six on defense and no specialists). The returning offensive starters are QB Stephen Garcia, WR Alshon Jeffery, OC T.J. Johnson, TB Marcus Lattimore, WR D.L. Moore, LT Kyle Nunn and RG Rokevious Watkins. The returning defensive starters include SPUR Antonio Allen, FS Akeem Auguste, CB Stephon Gilmore, SS DeVonte Holloman, DT Travian Robertson and DE Devin Taylor.

EVERY TIME OUT: The Gamecocks had 10 players start all 14 games a year ago. Of the 10, only LB Josh Dickerson, WR Tori Gurley and DE Cliff Matthews will not return for the 2011 campaign. Those returning players who started every contest a year ago include QB Stephen Garcia, CB Stephon Gilmore, WR Alshon Jeffery, OC T.J. Johnson, DT Travian Robertson, DE Devin Taylor and OG Rokevious Watkins. Garcia, Johnson and Gilmore have started every game over the past two seasons, a total of 27 games.

GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN: The Gamecocks said goodbye to 22 lettermen from last year's bowl roster, including 11 starters. The departing starters include LG Garrett Chisolm, FB/TE Patrick DiMarco, RT Hutch Eckerson and WR Tori Gurley on the offensive side of the ball and DT Ladi Ajiboye, CB Chris Culliver, LB Josh Dickerson, DE Cliff Matthews and LB Tony Straughter on the defensive side of the ball. In addition, the Gamecocks lost P/PK Spencer Lanning and DS Charles Turner.

IT'S A NUMBERS GAME: The Gamecocks return 81 percent of their rushing yards, 100 percent of their passing yards and 79 percent of their receiving yards from a year ago. In addition, eight of the squad's top 10 tacklers return for the 2011 campaign.

3000-1000-1000: The Gamecocks (along with SMU) are one of only two teams in the country that can claim a returning 3,000-yard passer (Stephen Garcia), a 1,000-yard rusher (Marcus Lattimore) and a 1,000-yard receiver (Alshon Jeffery).

STARTS ON THE LINE: The Gamecock offensive linemen have combined for 70 starts. Center T.J. Johnson leads the way with 27, followed by tackles Kyle Nunn (16) and Rokevious Watkins (14). Sixth-year senior guard Terrence Campbell has made 13 starts. Redshirt freshman A.J. Cann is slated to make his first career start against East Carolina.

IN THE POLLS: The Gamecocks open the 2011 season ranked 12th in both major polls. It's the highest the Gamecocks have been ranked to start a season in school history. Previously, they have been ranked six times in the preseason poll by the Associated Press. They were No. 14 in 1959, No. 17 in both 1970 and 1985; 19th in 1988, 21st in 2001 and 22nd in 2002.

OUT OF THEIR LEAGUE: The Gamecocks were 4-1 in non-conference action in 2010. They won all of their regular season non-conference games for the second -straight year before falling in the bowl game. They are 21-7 in non-conference games under head coach Steve Spurrier, including wins in 19 of their last 24 non-SEC tilts. The year-by-year breakdown: 2005 (2-2); 2006 (5-0); 2007 (3-1); 2008 (3-2); 2009 (4-1); 2010 (4-1). They have a regular season winning streak over non-conference opponents of eight games. South Carolina's last regular season non-conference loss came over 1,000 days ago, at Clemson in 2008.

RECAPPING 2010: South Carolina finished the 2010 season with a 9-5 record overall, including a 5-3 mark in SEC play. The Gamecocks captured the SEC Eastern Division and played in the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta for the first time in school history. They finished the season ranked 22nd in both major polls, the first time they have finished the season in the nation's top 25 since the end of the 2001 season. The Gamecocks won nine games for just the third time in school history. They got off to a 3-0 start, including a win over nationally-ranked Georgia, before falling for the first time at eventual national champion Auburn. Carolina rebounded to knock off the top-ranked team in the country in Alabama, the Gamecocks' first win ever over a top-ranked squad. After an upset loss at Kentucky, South Carolina won five of its next six contests, including its first win in "The Swamp" against Florida and a win in Death Valley against Clemson, the second year in a row the Gamecocks have defeated their instate rival.

THE BEAST OF THE EAST: Prior to South Carolina's victory over Florida, only the Gators, Georgia and Tennessee had ever won the SEC Eastern Division. In addition to becoming the fourth-different SEC East team to head to Atlanta, the Gamecocks defeated the Gators, Vols and Bulldogs in the same season for the first time in school history.

ORANGE CRUSHED: South Carolina swept through the "Orange Crush" portion of its schedule with a perfect 3-0 record against Tennessee, Florida and Clemson, beating all three teams in the same season for the first time in school history. Only twice before had the Gamecocks managed a 2-1 mark in the season-ending stretch: the Gamecocks beat Tennessee and Clemson but lost to Florida in 1992, and Carolina earned victories over the Vols and Gators in 2005 before falling in the season finale to the Tigers.

DEFEATING THE BEST: South Carolina's best win over a ranked opponent came in the 2010 season when it knocked off No. 1 Alabama, 35-21, on Oct. 9. Here are the top wins in school history:

GOING BOWLING: The Gamecocks dropped a 26-17 decision to ACC runnerup Florida State in the 2010 Chick-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta. The game swung the Seminoles' way when Gamecock freshman standout Marcus Lattimore was injured early in the contest and was not able to return. Statistically the Gamecocks dominated much of the game, gaining 414 yards to FSU's 308, but five Carolina turnovers proved to be too much to overcome.

WINNING MORE OFTEN PART I: South Carolina won nine games for the third time in school history (and eight or more for just the 10th time). But more impressive is the fact that the Gamecocks had 29 wins over the last four seasons, the best four-year win total in school history. The Gamecocks had managed four-year stretches of 28 wins on three occasions - the 1990, 2008 and 2009 senior classes all experienced a 28-win career.

WINNING MORE OFTEN PART II: The Gamecocks have posted three-straight winning seasons and seven-consecutive seasons of at least a .500 record. The Gamecocks went 6-5 in 2004, 7-5 in 2005, 8-5 in 2006, 6-6 in 2007, and 7-6 in both 2008 and 2009 before logging a 9-5 record in 2010. The team has now equaled a school-record stretch from 1928-34 in which the Gamecocks had seven-straight seasons at .500 or better.

THE HEAD BALL COACH: Steve Spurrier begins his seventh season directing the Gamecock football program. He has logged a 44-33 mark in Columbia. The Head Ball Coach ranks third on the school's all-time wins list, just one behind Jim Carlen for second, and fourth in games coached at South Carolina. He is the first coach to have a career winning record at Carolina since Joe Morrison (39-28-2) patrolled the sidelines from 1983-88. Spurrier owns a 186-73-2 mark as a collegiate head coach, with stops at Duke and Florida before his stint at South Carolina. He is signed through the 2014 season.

PERFECT RECORD: Head coach Steve Spurrier is a perfect 41-0 all-time against schools outside of BCS automatic qualifier conferences, including a 15-0 mark since coming to South Carolina. He defeated Southern Miss, Furman and Troy in 2010 and will have the opportunity to extend that mark in 2011 against East Carolina, Navy and The Citadel.

THE BUTLER DID IT: The Gamecocks made one significant coaching change during the offseason with Shane Beamer leaving for his alma mater, Virginia Tech, to coach with his dad, head coach Frank Beamer. To replace Beamer, Spurrier tabbed former Minnesota Golden Gopher special teams coordinator John Butler to take over those similar duties with the Gamecocks. He will also assist with the Spurs. Butler came highly recommended by strength & conditioning coach Craig Fitzgerald, as the two coached together at Harvard.

COACHING SHUFFLE: In other coaching moves, Jeep Hunter moves from the offensive side of the ball where he was responsible for the tight ends, to the defensive side, where he will coach the safeties. Jay Graham, who has mentored the Gamecock running backs, will add the tight ends to his list of duties. Steve Spurrier Jr. has been given the added responsibilities of recruiting coordinator with Beamer's departure. Spurrier Jr. will continue to coach the wide receivers and is the team's passing game coordinator. Defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward will focus on the cornerbacks after coaching that group along with the free safeties a year ago.

RECRUITING SUCCESS: The Gamecocks are coming off another successful February signing day. They inked defensive end Jadeveon Clowney from South Pointe High School in South Carolina, who many consider the nation's number 1 prospect. Overall, the Gamecocks signed 32 players to National Letters of Intent, including four who count against last year's list. The Gamecocks have put together seven consecutive classes that rank among the nation's top 25, according to Rivals.com.

MR. FOOTBALL: The Gamecocks have signed the last three "Mr. Football" winners in the state of South Carolina. It was Stephon Gilmore in 2009, followed by Marcus Lattimore in 2010 and Jadeveon Clowney in 2011.

ENROLLING EARLY: The Gamecocks welcomed freshman Martay Mattox into the fold this spring. Mattox graduated from Clarke Central High in Athens, Ga. in December, enrolled at Carolina in January and went through his first spring drills. Mattox became the 11th freshman since Coach Spurrier's arrival in Columbia to enter college earlier than the norm. Clark Gaston did so in 2006, while Stephen Garcia and Travian Robertson arrived in January of 2007. Jay Spearman, C.C. Whitlock and Shaq Wilson all went through spring drills in 2008 after graduating from high school in the previous December. In 2009, Jarvis Giles, Stephon Gilmore and DeVonte Holloman made the early leap from high school to college. Quarterback Connor Shaw made the leap in 2010.

DONNING THE CAP AND GOWN: Five returning Gamecocks have received their degrees from the University. Those who have their diplomas in hand include Terrence Campbell (retail), Stephen Garcia (sociology), Byron McKnight (criminal justice), Rodney Paulk (marine science) and Travian Robertson (criminal justice).

IN THE CLASSROOM: The Gamecocks have been impressive in the classroom of late. The squad placed 31 players on the 2010 SEC Fall Academic Honor Roll while posting a team GPA of 2.779, the program's highest GPA on record. They followed that up with a spring GPA of 2.711. Those who made the SEC Honor Roll include returnees Jacob Baker, Jason Barnes, Payton Brady, Billy Byrne, Andrew Clifford, Stephon Gilmore, Walker Inabinet, Damario Jeffery, T.J. Johnson, Rodney Paulk, Travian Robertson, Seth Strickland, Dalton Wilson, Jay Wooten and Adam Yates.

GILMORE DOES IT ALL: Gamecock cornerback Stephon Gilmore was one of only six players to earn first-team All-SEC honors by either the Associated Press or Coaches and also be named to the 2010 Fall Academic Honor Roll. The others were Alabama offensive guard Barrett Jones, Florida punter Chas Henry, Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy, Auburn center Ryan Pugh and Mississippi State offensive tackle Derek Sherrod.

TAKING THE FIFTH (AND THE SIXTH): Linebacker Rodney Paulk and offensive guard Terrence Campbell have been granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA. Paulk earned second-team Freshman All-America honors from Sporting News as a freshman in 2006. He ranked fourth on the squad with 64 tackles during his sophomore season in 2007. Paulk injured his knee in August of 2008 and saw limited action in the first four games of that campaign before sitting out of the remainder of the season. He was granted his first medical redshirt following the season. In 2009, Paulk suffered a season-ending knee injury in the season-opening win at NC State, and was granted his second medical redshirt. He sat out the spring drills in 2010 while continuing his rehab work, and returned to the field in August. Paulk graduated in December with a degree in marine science. Campbell also came to Carolina in 2006, but suffered a season-ending knee injury early in his first camp and was granted a medical redshirt. He played in one game as a defensive lineman in 2007 before moving to the offensive side of the ball. He was a regular at right guard in 2008 then, after starting the first two games of the 2009 season, he suffered a neck/shoulder stinger that sidelined him for the remainder of the season and earned him a second medical redshirt season. He played sporadically in `10 but returns as a probable starter in 2011. Campbell earned his degree in retail in May. Paulk and Campbell are the second and third Gamecocks to have a sixth year of eligibility granted in the Spurrier Era, joining former tight end Andy Boyd.

THE SCHEDULE: Carolina will open the 2011 season at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte against East Carolina on Sept. 3. That game will mark the squad's third-straight tilt at a neutral site, following a pair of appearances in the Georgia Dome to end the 2010 season - the SEC Championship against eventual national champion Auburn and the Chick-fil-A Bowl vs. Florida State. The SEC opener is set for the next weekend in Athens against the Georgia Bulldogs in a key early season Eastern Division showdown. Carolina is then home for four straight contests, with the home opener set for Sept. 17 against Navy. Three-straight SEC home contests follow, with Vanderbilt, Auburn and Kentucky all making their way to Williams-Brice Stadium. The Gamecocks then go on the road for three-straight SEC showdowns over the next four weeks with trips to Mississippi State and Tennessee separated by an off week, followed by a trip to Arkansas. The final three games of the regular season will take place in the friendly confines of Williams-Brice Stadium, as Florida, The Citadel and Clemson venture to Columbia in November.

BOWL GAME PARTICIPANTS: For the second straight season, 10 of the Gamecocks' 11 Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) opponents are coming off bowl games. Vanderbilt is the lone FBS school on the slate that did not participate in a bowl game last season.

ROTATING ON AND OFF: With the rotation schedule of SEC West opponents, the Gamecocks drop Alabama from their schedule and pick up Mississippi State for the next two seasons. The Gamecocks will play in Starkville on Oct. 15. The Bulldogs will return the trip to Columbia during the 2012 campaign.

WORKING OVERTIME: The Gamecocks have played just two overtime games in their history, both at Tennessee. They dropped a 23-20 decision in Knoxville on Sept. 27, 2003, then fell by a 27-24 score on Oct. 27, 2007, at Neyland Stadium. Every other SEC team has played at least four overtime games since the rule was established in 1996.

GARCIA'S BACK: Fifth-year senior Stephen Garcia is back for his final campaign. The 6-2, 232-pounder from Lutz, Fla. already ranks statistically among the top 5 quarterbacks in South Carolina history (see chart below). He is 17-13 in 30 career starts and has made 28 consecutive starts. Only Todd Ellis (24) and Steve Taneyhill (20) have won more games as a starting quarterback for the Garnet & Black. Garcia is the SEC active leader in total offense, touchdown responsibility, pass completions, passing yards and touchdown passes.

IF NOT GARCIA, THEN SHAW: Sophomore quarterback Connor Shaw is expected to see playing time as well. Shaw, a 6-1, 204-pounder from Flowery Branch, Ga., saw action in nine games last season, completing 23-of-33 passes for 223 yards.

BRUCE ALMIGHTY: Redshirt freshman wide receiver Bruce Ellington could make an impact on the gridiron this year after doing so on the hardwood last winter. in addition to his work at wide receiver, he could be used in the "Wildcat" package and as a kick returner. The 5-9, 197-pounder from Moncks Corner, S.C. was the starting point guard for the Gamecocks' basketball team as a freshman. He earned a spot on the SEC All-Freshman team after leading the squad with a 12.8 points per game average. He started all 30 games for a squad that went 14-16. He is expected to rejoin the basketball team at the conclusion of the football season. He was a standout prep athlete in both sports for Berkeley High.

THE TALL AND SHORT OF IT: The Gamecocks boast several tall receivers in their rotation, including three players listed at 6-4 in Alshon Jeffery, Jason Barnes and D.L. Moore. Several are also more diminutive, including three that are listed at 5-9 in Bruce Ellington, Nick Jones and Damiere Byrd, along with Ace Sanders, who measures in at 5-7.

D-LINE AMONG THE BEST: The Gamecocks boast what many believe is one of the top defensive lines in college football. Devin Taylor, a 6-7, 260-pound junior, anchors one side of the line. Taylor was a first-team All-SEC selection a year ago after recording 13.0 tackles for loss, including 7.5 sacks. Fifth-year senior Melvin Ingram is listed as the starter on the other side, but can also move into the middle. The 6-2, 276-pounder from Hamlet, N.C. led the Gamecocks in sacks last season with 9.0. The man in the middle is fifth-year senior Travian Robertson. One of the strongest players on the team, Robertson has made 19 career starts among his 43 games played over the past four seasons. The nation's top recruit, Jadeveon Clowney, joins the defensive line corps this season, and is expected to make an immediate impact as well.

SHAQ IS BACK: The Gamecocks welcome the return of linebacker Shaq Wilson. Wilson, a 5-11, 223-pound junior from Jacksonville, Fla. led the team in tackles as a sophomore in 2009, but saw action in just one game last season, due to a hamstring injury suffered the first day of preseason drills. He played in the regular season game at Auburn and accounted for seven tackles and recovered two fumbles, but re-aggravated the hamstring injury and did not play again.

IN THE SECONDARY: The Gamecocks feature a talented group in the secondary, led by All-SEC performer and third-team All-American Stephon Gilmore. Gilmore, a 6-1, 193-pound junior from Rock Hill, S.C., led the team in tackles a season ago with 79. D.J. Swearinger, a 5-10, 208-pound strong safety is the other awards candidate in the secondary. He is considered the hardest hitter in the defensive backfield and recorded 66 tackles last year.

JUST FOR KICKS: The Gamecocks will have a new punter and a new placekicker this season, replacing Spencer Lanning, who held both duties last year. Senior Jay Wooten has won the placekicking battle. the senior from Laurinburg, N.C., has previous experience, as he kicked for North Carolina during the 2008 season, going 4-for-6 in field attempts and on all 11 extra point tries. The starting punting duties has been more closely contested, with Joey Scribner-Howard and Patrick Fish batting toe-to-toe. Scribner-Howard is a senior from Irmo who gained experience kicking for Carson-Newman College in 2007 and `08, and as a kickoff specialist for Carolina in 2010. Fish is a redshirt freshman from Shelby, N.C.

THE DAWG POUND: The Gamecocks will get their fill of Bulldogs this season, as three of their opponents have that nickname. Carolina will face the Georgia Bulldogs, the Mississippi State Bulldogs and The Citadel Bulldogs this season.

THEY PAY TO SEE THE GAMECOCKS PLAY: South Carolina averaged 76,668 fans for its seven home games at Williams-Brice Stadium last season, ranking 18th in the nation in average home attendance. The largest crowd came on Oct. 9 as 82,993 fans packed Williams-Brice Stadium to witness the historic Gamecock upset of No. 1 Alabama. That crowd was the 19th-biggest in Williams-Brice Stadium history and the largest since 83,704 were on hand for the Gamecocks' contest against then-No. 2 Georgia in 2008.

UP NEXT: The Gamecocks will have an early season SEC Eastern Division showdown next week when they travel to Athens to face the Georgia Bulldogs. Game time is set for 4:30 p.m. and the contest will be televised nationally on ESPN.

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