Posts Tagged ‘Sports Illustrated’

What are the chances that we see another happy splash like this at the end of this season?

It’s not football season until I try to lower your expectations about the Gamecocks, right? Okay, you don’t have to answer that question. This could really be a season like no other. Because of that, I think we need to look a little deeper at what to expect. (Translation: I’m just making up an excuse to write more) We’ll split this preview up into three parts:

Part 1: Where is this team in the national pecking order?
Part 2: 1st half predictions
Part 3: 2nd half predictions and other useless stuff

How good is this team? No, really.
I imagine that you have some pretty fond memories of last season. The Gamecocks finished 11-2 and beat Nebraska in the Capital One Citrus Bowl, 30-13. First 11 win season in school history, (second double-digit win total overall, more on that later) best final poll ranking ever. Here are some other, um, accolades:
-Wins against Georgia, Tennessee, Florida and Clemson in the same season
-Connor Shaw finished second in the SEC in passer rating
-Marcus Lattimore missed the final 6.5 games of the year, yet finished 7th in the SEC in rushing yards
-Went undefeated vs. division opponents
-Beat Clemson for the 3rd year in a row
-Went on a legitimate run *after* losing the returning passer and rusher from the previous season

So, all of these things were great. No, really, they were. Hell, the HBC even gave the team rings (I’m not so sure if that’s the finished product) for their accomplishments. But since I’m supposed to be about perspective, let’s have just a little:
-In the loss to Auburn, the Tigers ran about 238 plays, and the Gamecocks were peeing their pants instead of driving down the field to either tie or take the lead.
-The team got rings for winning, among other things, the Citrus Bowl—which was played in front of about 10,000 empty seats. The Citrus Bowl is still played on New Year’s Day, which is great. But, it’s probably a 3rd tier game at best.
(So maybe it’s hard to really nitpick here. That’s not so bad!)

Anyway, the heights reached last season were dizzying, to say the least. But you have to wonder “Now what?”, right? Is it time to take another step into the rare air of “top five national title contender”, or did South Carolina miss out on taking charge while teams like Florida and Tennessee struggled? Will 11 wins and another 3rd tier (or second tier) bowl game be enough? How quickly would the city burn to the ground if the Gamecocks won the SEC Championship? Will this be a letdown season? What actually qualifies as a “letdown”? Since things could go either way, I’ll yo-yo between signs of a promising season and signs of a letdown. Let’s face it, folks: The “what if” game is really fun!!

Letdown Sign: Breakthrough years are sometimes followed up with breakdown years.
While I may have still been in diapers, I’m sure some of you are quite familiar with the Black Magic season of 1984. At that time, it was the best season EVAR for the Gamecocks. Wins over Georgia, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Florida State and Clemson led to a 10-2 record and a birth in the Gator Bowl against Oklahoma State. That next year? Not so awesome. And no, this isn’t just a South Carolina thing:
-Georgia Tech went 11-3 and to the Orange Bowl in 2008, only to go 6-7 in 2009.
-Kansas went 11-1 and won the Orange Bowl in 2007, but fell to 8-5 in 2008.
-Illinois made it to the Sugar Bowl with a 10-2 record in 2001, but fell to 5-7 in 2002.
-Maryland won 31 games (and the ACC once!) from 2001-03, only to go 5-6 in both 2004 and 2005.
-Ole Miss tripped (sorry, Eli) to 10-3 and the Cotton Bowl in 2003, only to go 4-7 in 2004.
(Of course, these are not elite programs in the slightest. Makes for great comparison to the Gamecocks, you guys.)
I understand that South Carolina went 9-5 in 2010, but if you recall how those last two games turned out, 2010 was definitely a breakthrough. Also, take a guess for how many 9 win seasons South Carolina has had in their history. Still guessing? The answer is 3. By comparison, Oklahoma has had 32 ten win seasons. So, yeah—last year was a breakthrough. Unfortunately, history isn’t very kind to that sort of thing.

Next Level Sign: Stability
For the first time in something like 309 years, Steve Spurrier has a quarterback that he’s pleased with. As I noted before, Connor Shaw was second in the conference in pass efficiency. The offense is no longer just a “See how far Marcus runs, pop five or six hemorrhoids, then throw it deep to Alshon Jeffrey” (my unbiased scout’s take). The offense has a foundation of the zone read, and there are capable receivers around to keep the defense from focusing on just one. Instead of going outside to get a defensive coordinator after Ellis Johnson left for Southern Miss, the team promoted Lorenzo Ward. Nothing “feels” different around here. That’s not really a bad thing at all.

Letdown Sign: Injuries
Okay, so injuries happen. And college football teams carry something like 174 players, so if someone gets hurt then the backup comes in and you’re set, no problem. There’s only one problem: It never works out that way. There is a general consensus that Marcus Lattimore is one of the best running backs in the country. Of course, he missed half of last year with a serious knee injury. I say serious knee injury because the school never said what actually happened to his knee. While there’s plenty of reason to think that Lattimore will play great this year, production after a serious knee injury isn’t really an exact science. Also, do you remember that Connor Shaw suffered two concussions last season (against Arkansas and Nebraska)? The more we learn about head injuries, the worse that sounds…right? Don’t let the drafting of Stephon Gilmore fool you, the South Carolina secondary was not awesome last year. Of course, now the team is down one starter in that part of the defense already. Again, injuries happen. But when thy happen to a team expected to actually do well, um…

Next Level Sign: About those expectations…
Sure, South Carolina starts the season ranked in the Top 10. Football Outsiders says the most likely result for the Gamecocks is 8-4. The average projected wins (still through Football Outsiders—they may be nerds, but they’re usually not wrong) is 7.7, which is lowest among any of the other teams ranked in the top 10. The media members who attended SEC’s media days think that Georgia will win the division. (Of course, Andy Staples favors the Gamecocks) From what I’ve seen, Sports Illustrated is the only major publication that has Georgia ranked below South Carolina (I need to renew my subscription!). Of course, since I have “Great Hype Falls Hard” tattooed on my chest, I think this is great news! If South Carolina continues to win, they’ll surely climb the rankings by default (because at least 3 of the teams ahead in the rankings will lose at some point). This “lying in the weeds” status is just the thing to lead to something awesome. And yes, I used the word “awesome”.

Letdown Sign: IT’S SOUTH CAROLINA!
I was going to use the schedule as a letdown factor, but I “knew” that LSU would likely be on the schedule this season, and The Swamp is only intimidating if Florida is actually good (that remains to be seen). As I mentioned before, the Gamecocks had only had three NINE win seasons, ever. Remember the mostly likely scenario I mentioned before? That would be the 11th eight win season ever. I will agree with you if you were to say that this has been a healthy growth for the Gamecocks. But, of course, that’s not the most difficult thing to do when you’re 11 games over .500—-all time. Remember those “successful” basketball teams from the late nineties? Flamed out in the first round. Even the back-to-back champion baseball team went down in a cloud of Asian-American + gigantic strike zone dust to Arizona. This is just guessing, but I believe there are more people who believe in non football forces (karma, the “football gods”, luck, the moon) when rooting for their team(s). Well, that sort of stuff has never really been on the side of the Gamecocks. There’s a certain Cubs/Clippers/Mets/Maple Leafs aura to the Gamecocks that just hasn’t been shaken…ever. Everything is seemingly in place now. Will that matter, though?

Here’s hoping that I’ve worked you up into a nice enough lather in order to read my predictions for every game next season. To be continued.