Today's roundtable features staff writer David Porter, Publisher Adam Garrett and guest bloggers Leftover Hot Dog and The Meat Locker Sports.
Please make sure you click their names and frequent their blogs too - you won't be disappointed.
We'll get started with a Season Preview in this week's edition of The Anthem Roundtable...
South Carolina finds themselves ranked in the Top 10 in the preseason polls for the first time in school history. Are these Gamecocks capable of handling the preseason expectations?
PORTER: Under normal circumstances I would say it would be nearly impossible for a team to live up to expectations that have never been placed in such high regard. However, this team has heard it for nearly eight months after winning 11 games for the first time ever. That has not deterred them in the weight room and on the practice fields. There appears to be no big egos and they have a strong group of leaders with the likes of Marcus Lattimore, Connor Shaw, Devin Taylor, and D.J. Swearinger. We won't know for sure until the first couple of games, but I think they are capable.
GARRETT: The transformation of this team in the last few years has really changed the outlook for the Gamecocks. There are no more individuals looking for attention. Everyone appears to be of the mindset that this is a team effort. There are great leaders who have helped reshaped the culture of this program and they will lead this team to new heights. Expectations are always dangerous but this Gamecock football is ready to handle it all.
LOHD: I can confidentially say yes to that question as this is not your daddy's Gamecocks. Under the coaching of Steve Spurrier, a new culture has taken root and winning at a high-level is expected. The 2012 squad is well-balanced on both sides of the ball and talent can be found all the way passed the second string. If USC takes care of business, stays healthy and gets a lucky bounce…well, the expectations are realized.
MLS: With this ranking, Coach Spurrier should feel like he finally has this team in the position that he's been anxiously waiting for. With the consistent success he had at Florida, Spurrier knows what it takes to keep a team with high expectations motivated. With leadership on both sides of the ball, the upper classmen are primed to keep the younger guys focused and driven for future success by putting together a solid 2012 campaign.
There have been some preseason injury concerns at the cornerback position with Akeem Auguste's recent surgery and Rico McWilliams season-ending knee injury. How will the Gamecocks overcome their losses and find a way to be successful at cornerback this season?
PORTER: As I said in a recent practice report, there is a reason South Carolina enters the season as a top 10 team in pretty much every poll. For many years the Gamecocks have had a first team that is capable of playing with almost anyone, they just haven't had the depth to hang around into the second half. Now they do. Someone will step into that role and find a way to be successful.
With that said, corner is still going to be the big weakness and that will be a concern. The best way to overcome that will be using their biggest strength. If the quarterback doesn't have time to throw the ball the cornerback won't be in trouble. Expect a lot of pressure this year from blitzes.
GARRETT: The best way to overcome the losses at cornerback is to "coach up" the next guy. This means players like Jimmy Legree, Ahmad Christian, T.J. Gurley and Chaz Elder could all be counted on to elevate their play. Luckily for the Gamecocks, there are a few good defensive ends that should help bring pressure and force opposing quarterbacks to make a mistake.
They have a few challenges ahead early in the season against Vanderbilt and ECU, who should get these players ready to go when the Gamecocks get deeper into the schedule.
LOHD: The injury bug hurts especially when talking about the secondary where it is a little thin but in saying that the time is right for someone to step-up. There is young talent in the secondary and now is the time to seize the moment. All eyes on Jimmy Legree as he is the likely one to fill the gap; also, look for the defense scheme as a whole to adjust when necessary with some linebackers dropping more in coverage to ensure the opposing offense does not wear out the secondary. Full confidence in Coach Ward to ensure the defense is not the weak link in a BCS run.
MLS: It's looking like younger guys such as T.J. Gurley and Chaz Elder are going to be forced to play earlier and more than what was probably expected. Gurley has been taking reps with the CB's this week and familiarizing himself with the position. He's a natural safety that appears to be very coachable. With Jimmy Legree expected to start opposite of Victor Hampton, it's a little nerve racking knowing that we have to watch our secondary mature against the likes of the Tennessee and Georgia receiving corps.
Jadeveon Clowney is expected to take the next step towards superstar status this season. What are some realistic expectations out the sophomore defensive end?
PORTER: I still remember hearing Brad Lawing say in the spring that Clowney did what he did last year with limited knowledge of the playbook. That should scare the living daylight out of every offensive coordinator on the schedule. I've always said that the best way to take the next step is to improve on what you did last year. If Clowney displays more knowledge of the playbook and improves on his 36 tackles and eight sacks then he is taking that next step. If I had to put a number on it I would say 55 tackles and 10 sacks.
GARRETT: Last year, Clowney was able to wreak havoc for the Gamecocks without knowing the majority of the playbook. On sheer talent alone, he tallied 8.0 sacks and 12.0 tackles for loss. He also forced five fumbles. The young man has talent. Now he has the knowledge. Look for Clowney to increase those numbers this season with around 12.0 sacks, 50 tackles and six forced fumbles along the way. He will be used in multiple situations this season allowing him to attack at different angles. Big things are expected of Clowney this season and he should deliver for the Gamecocks.
LOHD: Let's first look at 2011 – he had 36 tackles, 8.0 sacks, 12.0 tackles for loss, five forced fumbles, and six quarterback hurries. In 2012, the expectation should be to increase that production and land on the All-SEC first team. He needs to be a force at defensive end. I would love to see him lead the SEC in sacks as he has the potential and will Coach Ward calling the shots now you are likely to see him allow Clowney to blitz more.
MLS: Clowney is obviously slated for a big season. As a true freshman, with a limited understanding of his assignments, he had eight sacks and was basically playing on pure instinct. A funny comparison that we used last year was that he looked like a baby giraffe learning how to walk out there. He's put on more weight on his already pro-ready frame. He focused heavily on the playbook during the offseason, which is important because of the way Lorenzo Ward plans to use him this year (Mevin 2.0) Realistically, I don't see him being a 15+ sack defensive end THIS year, more like 10 sacks. However, I do expect to see his ability to pressure the quarterback improve and his overall tackle numbers increase as well as his tackles for loss. With 12 TFL last year, he should be able to improve on those already impressive numbers.
Are there any true freshman that you would expect to play a major role for South Carolina in 2012? If so, who?
PORTER: There are several that could play a major role this season. Shaq Roland has impressed everybody this fall and has been everyone's favorite freshman, but with the depth at receiver he may not have that huge season that a breakout receiver can have. Jerell Adams is another guy that has made some noise, but like Roland he has guys like Justice Cunningham and Rory Anderson that have proven to be great tight ends. I'm going to have to go on the defensive side of the ball. No one knows if and when Auguste will return. That leaves Legree and like two freshmen, T.J. Gurley and Chaz Elder, filling in. One of them will have to step up and give Legree some help.
GARRETT: Jerell Adams has been a standout at nearly every practice and scrimmage this fall. He's got the size, speed and hands to become a big-play threat for South Carolina at tight end. Shaq Roland has also been very impressive in camp making several highlight-reel worthy catches and may have a big impact at the wide receiver position. On defense, Jordan Diggs has been impressive as the backup for the SPUR position for Carolina. Diggs Is physically ready to go and will see a lot of time this year on the field and on special teams and could be nice surprise on defense.
LOHD: Easy answer points to Shaq Roland. The USC passing game needs him to emerge quickly as a weapon. Also I look for either T.J. Gurley or Chaz Elder to help in the secondary due to the injury bug. The other freshman to watch for is Jerell Adams as he could be a game-changer at tight end.
MLS: My two choices are on the offensive side of the ball, and really shouldn't be much of a surprise. With the buzz surrounding Jerrell Adams, you can't help but to be excited about this kid. With the way our passing offense took a backseat to the running game, Adams could add a whole new dynamic to the offense. A dynamic that we haven't seen in quite some time out of the tight end position. Secondly, Shaq Roland has really stepped up in camp as well. We've had success in the past in the early development of our young wide receivers (Sidney Rice, Alshon Jeffery, Ace Sanders.) Roland has the potential to step in and immediately become the outside threat that helps stretch the field. Connor needs some go-to guys outside of Ace Sanders, these two freshman could be those guys.
South Carolina's special teams have a new coach in Joe Robinson and new players vying for playing time. Tell us who wins the place-kicker and punter jobs for the Gamecocks.
PORTER: That is the million dollar question. Robinson will really have to earn his pay selecting two guys to take these positions, and I would not be at all surprised if multiple guys get a chance to prove themselves in game situations. If I had to pick (which I obviously do) I will go with Mike Williamson getting the nod punting and Adam Yates as kicker. I will go out on a limb a little bit by saying Nick St. Germain will take the job at some point this year. There's a reason this kid was recruited and offered a scholarship.
GARRETT: Right now, it looks like Adam Yates and Tyler Hull will win the kicker and punter positions, respectively. Yates is a veteran in this group with in-game experience that should prove to be valuable for USC. He also seems to be the most consistent in practice. Nick St. Germain was brought in on scholarship and Landon Ard is also in the mix. Both young players should help build the depth for the future but the time seems right for Yates to be the kicker this season.
Punter is a bit more up in the air but Hull has the best shot right now. Spurrier called him out in a post-practice interview as a guy who will likely earn that job. Mike Williamson is the main competition here but consistency is an issue. If Hull continues to hit some booming punts with regular consistency, he'll win the job for the Gamecocks.
LOHD: Looks like Adam Yates will be the place-kicker. Punter status seems to be a daily back-and-forth battle between Mike Williamson and Tyler Hull. Both have a strong leg, just need more consistency. I would not be surprised if Tyler Hull wins out.
MLS: I think it comes down to the obvious candidate in Adam Yates at placekicker. He's been with the program since 2008 and was just put on scholarship this season. I like the composure and the familiarity that a senior kicker possesses rather than a true freshman like Nick St. Germain. Germain's time will come, and I feel he will be a successful kicker in the future for the Gamecocks, just not quite yet. As far as punter, that still seems to be a little up in the air. In the end, I think it comes down to YouTube sensation/walk-on with a rocket leg, Tyler Hull.
A big storyline for South Carolina this season is the return of running back Marcus Lattimore. How do you feel his return will impact this offense?
PORTER: Anybody that doesn't say Lattimore's return is huge either hasn't been following football the last two years and should be slapped in the head or just plain doesn't have a clue about the game. There's no way to describe the importance of getting him back this season. Brandon Wilds and Kenny Miles both did a superb job last season given the circumstances, but there is only one Marcus Lattimore. Wilds and Miles both earned respect from opposing teams but nowhere near the level of respect Lattimore has. When #21 is on the field he has to be accounted for at all times. That just opens things up a little bit more for Connor Shaw and the receivers to do what they do. They truly are two-dimensional with Lattimore on the field.
GARRETT: Marcus Lattimore is a once-in-a-lifetime running back. He brings so much value to this offense and that was before Connor Shaw took over full-time as quarterback. Imagine trying to contain Shaw and Lattimore in the spread-option offense when both players are on a roll. I think that'll be hard to do as an opposing defensive coordinator.
Lattimore can carry the load for the Gamecocks with multiple games of 20+ carries but is also an extremely valuable receiver out of the backfield. His presence alone should open things up for the Gamecocks and he'll be a major reason the Gamecocks put up big numbers this year on offense.
LOHD: Pure and simple is the fact that Marcus Lattimore is the definition of a weapon. He has so many tools as a running back and having him back in the mix for 2012 is why USC is a Top 10 team to begin with. He provides the perfect blend for Coach Spurrier's offense out of the zone-read scheme but also he is a great blocker for the pass game. Lattimore is a great boost for the SEC East title run.
MLS: Cue the "Angry Grandpa" YouTube video and join me in the "Latt-A-Mo Heis-A-Man" chant! Since Connor Shaw took over under center, we became a run heavy offense, and rightfully so. Lattimore is going to step in and not miss a beat. As hard as that kid works, I have complete faith in the strength in his knee being back to 100%. With Latty back, he'll be there to take the pressure off Connor and he'll keep our offense still heavy on the run. Something that shouldn't be overlooked though is the leadership he's providing to the younger guys behind him. Although we may not see it in 2012, Lattimore's presence and leadership will be great for Mike Davis and will carry on beyond 2012 if he decides to leave for the draft after this season. It's hard to stop talking about the excitement of Lattimore's return. Did I mention that he's an obvious candidate for the Heisman? O.K. I'm done now, promise.
Give us your season predictions for the Gamecocks in 2012
PORTER: The sky is the limit for this team. Assuming Lattimore, Shaw, Clowney, Devin Taylor and other key players stay healthy there's no reason to believe Carolina can't win double-digit games again this season. With the exception of LSU (and possibly Florida), the toughest games are at home this year. CFN ranks Williams-Brice in its top 15 toughest places to play in, and if that proves to be true and Carolina holds serve at home, then a 10-win season is very plausible. I'm going to go with 10-2 and as long as one of those two losses isn't to Georgia then the Gamecocks should be back in the SEC Championship game come December.
GARRETT: The minimum South Carolina should have this season is 10 wins. Kind of strange to say that right? But this is where the Gamecocks are now. They have built up an incredible amount of talent, have great leadership on the coaching staff and support from all over the country. The schedule is difficult but there isn't one game that South Carolina doesn't have a chance to win.
My prediction is for South Carolina to go 10-2 in the regular season with losses to LSU and Arkansas. I believe this will be enough to get the Gamecocks back to Atlanta for a run at the SEC Championship. Win that one and it's on to the BCS. But let's take it one game at time, shall we? Another fun season is in store for South Carolina that's for sure!
LOHD: South Carolina will have challenges in 2012 as life in the SEC is not a easy skid. Yet there isn't a game on the schedule Carolina can't win if they are playing their best football.
To me there are four crucial games for USC and they are: Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, LSU
USC can certainly hang with everyone on their schedule but these four games present unique challenges. LSU in Baton Rouge will be the biggest game of the year for Spurrier as it could determine a BCS bid. UF and UGA will determine the SEC East winner. And Arkansas is the thorn in the side of the Gamecocks. The outcome of these four games will determine BCS glory versus just another bowl game type year. My prediction is a 10-2 type year as out of those four listed is where the losses will come. Pack your bags for Atlanta as the dome is nice in December.
MLS: 10-2. LSU is the obvious threat. And there's potential for one throw-away loss.