1. The strength of schedule this year for the Gamecocks is one of the toughest in the entire country. The first 4 games of the season prove to be a stiff challenge for a young Gamecock football team. The Gamecocks start the year of with 2 road games to NC State & Georgia. If the Gamecocks were to lose both of those games, they would be looking at opening the season 1-3 square in the face with a top 10 Ole Miss team coming to Williams Brice in week 4. Getting off to that type of start (which is very realistic) could be devastating for a team that is young and is trying to recover from yet another late season collapse from last year.
The Gamecocks did lose LSU from the schedule this year, but they picked up a surging Alabama team in their place. Arkansas looks to be a much better team this fall, and we all know the struggles that the Gamecocks have had with Florida and their arch rival Clemson. We have not even brought up the fact that the Vanderbilt Commodores have a 2 game winning streak going against the Gamecocks, and now have no doubts in their mind that they can do it again. Getting off to a good start this season (at least 2-2 through the first 4 games) is almost a must for the Gamecocks. If they fail to do that, then another long season could be in store again.
2. Overall team youth & inexperience is something that certainly should make Gamecock fans a little wary. Although at many positions, the Gamecocks boast more talent and potential, their inexperience could be something that cripples them at some of the most inopportune times this fall. One of the areas where this inexperience is the most evident is in the secondary, especially at the cornerback position. At one cornerback position the Gamecocks have 2 freshmen running first and second team in Stephon Gilmore and DJ Swearinger respectively. At the other corner position, it isn't much better. The Gamecocks have 2 sophomores holding down the fort in Akeem Auguste and C.C. Whitlock.
To drive home the worrisome nature of the experience issue the Gamecocks have at the cornerback position, the coaching staff has been cross training all SEC caliber safety Chris Culliver at the cornerback position as well. WR is another position on the team that has a ton of inexperience issues. While the Gamecocks may have more talent and depth as an overall WR corps this fall, they will be trying to play without training wheels as soon as possible this fall.
Another discouraging area in terms of experience is the QB depth chart. QB Stephen Garcia is always one bad play from being out the rest of the season. Nobody behind Garcia has any type of real game experience, and that is a problem. The RB position for the Gamecocks hasn't had too many opportunities to prove their merit in real game situations. In fact, South Carolina's leading returning rusher, Eric Baker, looks as if he might be redshirted this year. That leaves a running back corps that will have to cut its teeth quickly, especially in the pass protection and blocking responsibilities that they will have. Having this much inexperience throughout the roster is bound to give the Gamecocks some problems this fall. Just how much, remains to be seen.
3. Having no established go to guy on the offensive side of the ball is something coach Spurrier has struggled with during his tenure at South Carolina. In fact, the only true go to guy on offense that the Gamecocks have had during that time has been Sidney Rice. Until the Gamecocks are able to find another go to guy, whether it is at WR or RB, opposing defenses are going to pin their ears back and force the issue against the Gamecock offense. The best scenario for the Gamecocks would be that one of their young RB's would rise to the occasion, of course with the help of the OL, to provide an ability to control the clock and move the chains. If that were to happen, the Gamecock offense for one of the few times since coach Spurrier has been here will have the chance to show what it can do. One of the main reasons the Gamecocks have faded down the stretch in recent years, was because they didn't have a horse they could ride to the finish. Someone needs to step up and be that guy this year, or the Gamecocks will be mired in mediocrity again, or worse.
4. Life without Ryan Succop will be interesting for the Gamecocks. You know the old adage, "You don't know how good you had it until it's gone". Well, there is a high probability of that ringing true for the Gamecocks this fall. Ryan Succop gave the Gamecocks the ability to score from up to 55 yards out. That is a luxury. He also had his fair share of touchbacks on kickoffs in his career. That too, is a luxury. Those luxuries will not be as evident this fall.
That is not to say that Spencer Lanning can't be a solid kicker for the Gamecocks, it just means that the kicking game is yet another area where the Gamecocks need someone to step up. Doing the little things like making field goals and extra points when you have the opportunity is imperative. Controlling the other teams return game by kicking touchbacks and punting in areas and ways to your advantage, helps young teams like the Gamecocks weather the storm and have a chance to win. How those situations are handled this fall will be very telling and indicative of the Gamecocks chances to win games and have a good season.
5. The Gamecocks will still be lining up under center this fall with an unproven QB. With all the hype and expectations that Stephen Garcia brought with him, many would have thought we would have seen on the field evidence by now to warrant such chatter. However, this has not been the case. Everyone is aware of the off the field trouble for Garcia, and unfortunately most Gamecock fans are aware of the on the field struggles he has had as well. Maybe, this fall will be the dawning of a new day for the Gamecock gunslinger, and as a result, a rising from the ashes for the Gamecock offense. One thing in the Gamecocks and Garcia's favor is that this is the first time in his career that he has gone through spring practice, a summer of working with his WR's and OL, and a full fall camp. Having that opportunity to practice with the first team over that period should undoubtedly give Garcia and his teammates some much needed confidence. The problem? He has to take it and translate it to the field of play when it counts. If Garcia fails to prove himself again this fall, especially since this team has been given solely to him to lead, the rest of his career and the Gamecocks season will be in serious doubt.
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