2013 SEC Football Preview: South Carolina

The 2013 football season is rapidly approaching. Each Scout.com SEC publisher previewed their school's team, ranked the 14 SEC teams from best to worst by division and picked an overall champion. In this edition we preview South Carolina.

Although South Carolina has a number of very fine football players, discussion of the Gamecocks has to begin with Steve Spurrier, who is beginning his ninth year as head coach at Carolina. Last year Spurrier improved his record with the Gamecocks to 66-37, making him the winningest coach in South Carolina history. He is also the winningest coach in Florida history, where he put together 122 victories.

There is no doubt the HBC can get the job done, and that job is made easier with good players, which Spurrier has been attracting to Columbia. The Gamecocks finished 2012 on a five-game winning streak, including a road win at Clemson and an Outback Bowl victory over Michigan.

Although Spurrier has a reputation for offense, it is the South Carolina defense that stands out, and particularly Jadeveon Clowney, a unanimous All-America selection and winner of the Hendricks Award as the nation's best defensive end last year as a sophomore. Last year the Gamecocks finished in the top five in the SEC in all defensive statistics.

South Carolina has a strong secondary returning with starting cornerbacks Jimmy Legree and Victor Hampton, strong safety Brison Williams, and freshman All-SEC safety T.J. Gurley. Clowney is joined on the defensive line by returning staring tackle Kelcy Quarles. The problem is five linebackers with a total of 90 starts were graduated.

The most important offensive position is quarterback and the Gamecocks are in good shape with returning starter Connor Shaw, who has a 17-3 record as a starter. He missed the spring after undergoing foot surgery. His back-up, Dylan Thompson, is also experienced, going the distance in the win over Clemson and throwing the winning touchdown pass in the final seconds against Michigan.

Tailback is a work in progress. Not only did Carolina lose the outstanding Marcus Lattimore to injury, but also graduated the man who took his place.

South Carolina lost its top receiver when Ace Sanders went early to the NFL, but the Gamecocks return one of the finest athletes in the SEC in Bruce Ellington. Ellington had 40 catches for a team-high 600 yards and seven touchdowns before taking over at point guard for the basketball team.

Carolina returns four of five starters in the offensive line, headed by senior tackle Ronald Patrick. The Gamecocks will have a new center. Also new will be the tight end, probably 6-5, 218-pound Rory "Busta" Anderson. Offensive tackle Brandon Shell was a Freshman All-America last year, while tight end Jerrell Adams was Freshman All-SEC.

South Carolina is rebuilding almost all facets of its special teams with only punter Tyler Hull and kickoff return man Ellington back among the specialists.

The Gamecocks have put together back-to-back 11-win seasons and top 10 national finishes, ninth and eighth, (both school firsts).

One thing that changes this year is the schedule. Last year the Gamecocks had a mid-season murderer's row of Georgia (an impressive 35-7 win), LSU on the road (21-23 loss), and Florida away (11-44 loss). This year South Carolina has Georgia on Sept. 7 and Florida on Nov. 16 and instead of LSU has Mississippi State. The Gamecocks end the season with five consecutive home games.

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