Ten Predictions For The Gamecocks In 2007

2006 has seen its share of memorable ups and downs for Gamecock Nation, but there is still plenty to look forward to in the upcoming year. To celebrate the arrival of the new year, GamecockAnthem.com takes a look at what lies ahead for South Carolina in year three of the Steve Spurrier era and makes ten predictions for the 2007 football season.

1. The South Carolina offense will average over 30 points per game.

The Steve Spurrier-led Cock N' Fire offense began to take form down the stretch of the 2006 season, as the Gamecocks averaged over 35 points per game and 490 yards of total offense in the final four contests. With eight starters returning from that unit, including every major skill position contributor, USC's offense will be poised for a big season in year three of the Spurrier system.

2. Cory Boyd will rush for 1,000 yards.

The hard-nosed Boyd returned in 2006 after serving a one year suspension and had a banner year in the Gamecock offense. Despite missing the Florida Atlantic game early in the season and sharing carries with dual-threat quarterback Syvelle Newton in the middle of the year , Boyd totaled 823 yards rushing and 8 touchdowns, while averaging a sterling 5.0 yards per carry.

Boyd, who will be a fifth year senior in 2007, will continue to share carries with bruising backfield mate Mike Davis, and newcomer Brian Maddox may earn some playing time as well, but Boyd will serve as the first option in a physical and talented Gamecock backfield. If he can stay healthy throughout the season, Boyd will become the first USC running back to eclipse the 1,000 yard mark since Derek Watson did in the 2000 season.

3. The offensive line will once again struggle out of the gates.

The USC offensive line has struggled early in the season in each of Spurrier's first two years at South Carolina. After losing three interior starters from the 2006 line, including senior center Chris White, the Gamecocks will once again look to find the right combination along the line early in the 2007 campaign. With an assortment of young, talented linemen and a few underachieving veterans to fill the three interior spots, Coach John Hunt will have his work cut out for him. However, despite the slow starts in each of the last two years, Hunt has done a masterful job helping the lines progress during the course of the season. Look for that trend to continue in 2007, as the Gamecocks will discover the right combination by the midpoint of the season and grow from there.

4. The Gamecocks will field the best wide receiver rotation in the SEC.

Sophomores Sidney Rice and Kenny McKinley formed what many considered to be the top wide receiver tandem in the SEC during the 2006 season. Rice, who was selected as a second team All-SEC performer by the league's coaches, surpassed the 1,000 yard mark for the second consecutive season in 2006, while McKinley had a breakout year with 51 catches for 880 yards and 5 touchdowns.

Both Rice and McKinley will return in 2007, and the Gamecocks will add new firepower to the arsenal with 4-star JUCO transfer Larry Freeman. The 6'3, 220 pound Freeman will provide an athletic and physical target to complement Rice and McKinley. USC also returns promising sophomores Moe Brown, Freddie Brown, and Jared Cook, and several highly touted incoming freshmen will vie for playing time as well.

5. The Gamecock defense will be one of SEC's elite.

Despite breaking in ten new starters and fielding fourteen freshmen and sophomores on the two deep, the Gamecock defense competed at a respectable level under Tyrone Nix‘s direction in 2006. USC finished in the top half of the SEC in both scoring defense and pass defense, and they kept the Gamecocks in every game throughout the year. Linebacker Jasper Brinkley established himself as one of the premier linebackers in the SEC, and freshmen Eric Norwood, Rodney Paulk, Captain Munnerlyn, and Emanuel Cook played admirably in their first year's on campus.

The Gamecocks will return all but one starter from the 2006 defense, including twenty out of twenty-two players on the defensive two deep. On top of that, veterans Marque Hall and Brandon Isaac will return to the lineup after sitting out this past season with injuries. Hall was expected to compete for All-SEC honors at his defensive tackle spot entering into the season, but he suffered a knee injury in week two against Georgia. Isaac, who is a ball-hawking playmaker at safety, elected to have shoulder surgery and return for his senior season in 2007. They will both provide a much needed boost to a Gamecock defense that lacked playmakers in 2006.

With the emergence of Norwood at defensive end and the arrival of highly touted freshmen Cliff Matthews and Travian Robertson, Casper Brinkley will be able to move back to his natural position at outside linebacker and play alongside his twin brother, Jasper. The Brinkleys will combine to form one of the most feared linebacker tandems in the SEC, and they will play behind one of the deepest and talented defensive line's that USC has fielded in years. With much improved play from the front seven and a secondary that excels in man-to-man coverage, the Gamecock defense will become one of the SEC's elite units in the 2007 season.

6. Special teams play will improve under Fred Chatham.

Special teams Coach Fred Chatham came to Carolina this past season with the reputation of being one of the top kicking game coaches in America. The Gamecocks, who have suffered from porous special teams play for several years, did not see instant results from his arrival, but progress was made. USC ranked fourth in the SEC in net punting, second in the SEC in kickoff coverage, and placekicker Ryan Succop was one of the top kickers in the country.

Progress still needs to be made in the return game, but freshman speedster Captain Munnerlyn established himself as a legitimate kickoff return threat in the latter part of the season, as he averaged over 23 yards per return. Newcomers Addison Williams, Sam Pope, Michael Bowman, and Eric Baker could all challenge Kenny McKinley for the punt return duties in 2007.

7. Blake Mitchell will pass for 3,000 yards and win All-SEC honors.

Prior to the 2006 season, Coach Spurrier proclaimed that quarterback Blake Mitchell had made noticeable progress from the 2005 season and would challenge for All-SEC honors. However, with an offensive line that could not provide adequate protection early in the year, Mitchell was benched in favor of the more fleet-footed Syvelle Newton. Mitchell regained his starting spot after a brilliant second half performance against Arkansas, and he led the Gamecocks to a road win over arch-rival Clemson and a bowl victory over the high-powered Houston Cougars, while playing the best football of his career.

Mitchell will return primed as a fifth year senior in 2007, and although talented redshirt freshman Chris Smelley will likely see action, Mitchell will be the primary signal caller in what could potentially be one of the top passing attacks in the nation. If the offensive line can provide protection, Mitchell, who passed for 2,370 yards as a sophomore in 2005, will become the third Gamecock quarterback to eclipse the 3,000 yard mark in a season and will be recognized for his play with several post-season honors.

8. Several defensive newcomers will warrant playing time.

Although Signing Day (February 7) is still over two months away, the Gamecocks are set to bring in one of the top recruiting classes in their history, including several standouts on the defensive side of the ball. Despite returning the majority of the 2006 defense, multiple newcomers will warrant playing time in the 2007 season. 5-star safety Mark Barnes is expected to compete immediately for playing time in the defensive backfield, and many believe he is capable of earning a starting spot as a true freshman. Highly touted cornerbacks Jamire Williams and Addison Williams will provide much needed depth, while versatile JUCO Sam Pope could play either cornerback or safety for the Gamecocks.

The aforementioned Cliff Matthews and Travian Robertson will provide a boost at defensive end, while JUCO transfer Jonathan Williams and prep school arrival Olufemi Ajiboye will challenge for spots on the two deep at defensive tackle. The Gamecocks are still very much in the mix with potential difference makers Carlos Dunlap, Chris Culliver, and Josh Bynes as well. Several of these players will vie for playing time and provide an early impact on an already talented South Carolina defense in 2007.

9. USC will play Florida for a shot at the SEC-East.

USC will face a brutal SEC road schedule in 2007 that includes trips to Georgia, LSU, Tennessee, and Arkansas. However, with a talented and experienced lineup, the Gamecocks are capable of competing with the "big boys" next season. Carolina will split those four road games and hold serve at home against Mississippi State, Kentucky, and Vanderbilt to set up a November showdown with the defending SEC Champion Florida Gators. That game will determine the fate of the SEC-East, and with a win, the Gamecocks would make their first ever appearance in Atlanta for the SEC Title game.

10. The Gamecocks will play in a January bowl game.

After two consecutive trips to bowl destinations with cool climates, the Gamecocks have made it a goal to play in a bowl game with warm temperatures following the 2007 campaign. That will come to pass as the Gamecocks will invade the Sunshine State next January for either the Outback Bowl or the more prestigious Capital One Bowl.

The Gamecocks will show continued progress in the 2007 season, and it will serve as another building block for where Coach Spurrier and the ever-faithful Gamecock Nation believes the South Carolina football program is capable of heading.

Happy New Year from all of us at GamecockAnthem.com.

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