South Carolina preview

Here's another sign that the end of the world may be drawing perilously near: The ol' ball coach, Steve Spurrier, may be relying on his running attack and defense to win football games this season.

With Florida, Georgia and Tennessee struggling to fill gaping holes on defense, Spurrier's South Carolina Gamecocks clearly deserve consideration as a darkhorse candidate for the SEC East football title this fall. That's based on the return of two proven running backs and 10 starters on defense.

With only cornerback Fred Bennett missing from last year's No. 1 defense, the Cocks' stop unit should be as good as any in the SEC. In addition, Carolina has a nice 1-2 punch at running back in Cory Boyd and Mike Davis.

Boyd averaged 5.0 yards per carry last fall en route to 823 yards and nine touchdowns. He also caught 35 passes for 406 yards, averaging 11.6 per reception. Davis averaged 4.7 yards on his way to 474 rushing yards. He caught 11 passes for 94 yards, an average of 8.5 per grab.

From all appearances, Carolina needs only to develop a quality passing attack to challenge for the SEC championship. Senior quarterback Blake Mitchell is still looking to prove he can hold the first-team job for an entire season. Worse, his big-play receiver, Sidney Rice, opted for the NFL Draft rather than his final two years of college ability,

Mitchell has a 61.2 career completion percentage, best among the SEC's returning QBs. After backing up Syvelle Newton for much of 2006, he finished last season with a flourish, completing 19 of 29 passes for 323 yards and four touchdowns in Carolina's Liberty Bowl defeat of Houston.

Mitchell had a lousy spring game, however, completing just 13 of 39 passes for 150 yards with two interceptions. Even so, he shared the Most Improved Offensive Player award with Kenny McKinley, Rice's heir-apparent.

McKinley, a 6-0, 181-pound junior, caught 51 passes for 880 yards and 5 TDs in 2006, averaging an eye-popping 17.3 yards per reception. With Tennessee focusing on Rice last fall, McKinley burned the Vols for 70 yards on four grabs.

South Carolina was 8-5 last year and might've upset eventual national champ Florida if not for two blocked field goals. Perhaps that's why Spurrier has hired Shane Beamer, son of Virginia Tech head man and special-team's guru Frank Beamer. Shane, a former grad assistant at Tennessee, will coach Carolina's outside linebackers and help coordinate special teams.

The 2007 Gamecocks may not lead the NCAA in victories this season but they'll surely lead the NCAA in twins. Their defense could start two sets of them – the Lindseys (linebacker Dustin, defensive end Jordin) and the Brinkleys (linebackers Jasper and Casper).


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