2012 OUTLOOK: It took Steve Spurrier longer than he expected to change the culture at South Carolina, but it appears it has finally happened. Following a 2009 season in which the Gamecocks played in their first Southeastern Conference Championship game, they produced the best season in school history in 2011, posting an 11-2 mark that ended with a 30-13 win over Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl.. While several big contributors to those teams have been lost due to graduation and declaring for the NFL Draft, the team appears to have the potential to improve in 2012.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE
Despite numerous disruptions a year ago, the offense peaked at the end of the season behind the leadership of quarterback Connor Shaw. After taking over the Stephen Garcia, who was dismissed from the team at midseason, Shaw led the team to a 5-1 record as a starter. He improved throughout, leading USC to wins over rival Clemson and Nebraska at the end of the season by a combined 64-26 score. He managed to do that despite being without All-American running back Marcus Lattimore who was lost for the season with a torn ACL in his knee midway during the campaign. Although he and redshirt freshman running back Shon Carson are sitting out spring practice while rehabbing, both are expected to be at full strength in the fall. Senior Kenny Miles and sophomore Brandon Wilds are the duo who filled in the absence of Lattimore and Carson. All-American Alshon Jeffery must be replaced after declaring for the NFL Draft. While it will be hard to replace him with one performer, the Gamecocks have several athletes who are itching to fill the void. Junior Ace Sanders leads the pack. USC could get another boost at the position as sophomore Bruce Ellington a two-sport standout, could return. After announcing he would play basketball only next season, he has net with Spurrier about potentially playing football again. While the loss of tackle Rokevious Watkins to graduation is big, the team will have several talented youngsters up front which could potentially lead to the line improving.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE
USC lost a lot defensively, but could be improved on that side of the football as well. Lorenzo Ward will be in his first season as defensive coordinator. He will have what may be the country's best pair of end in sophomore Jadeveon Clowney and senior Devin Taylor. The Gamecocks will be talented, but younger at tackle where sophomore Kelcy Quarles returns after starting the last six games of the 2011 season. Shaq Wilson, the defensive leader, returns at middle linebacker, while DeVonte Holloman, who started at strong safety the last two seasons, moves to Spur. All-SEC performer Stephon Gilmore must be replaced at corner after starting for three seasons, along with C. C. Whitlock who started on the other side.
SCOUTING THE SPECIAL TEAMS
Field goal kicker Jay Wooten and punter Joey Scribner-Hioward must be replaced. Both jobs are up for grabs in the spring, although walk-on Mike Williamson has been impressive as a punter. Ace Sanders returns at the team punt returner.
WR Shaq Roland -- A Parade All-American, Roland could be the next in a line of outstanding wide receivers that will have a chance to make an impact as a freshman. A Parade All-American who is also a Division 1 talent in basketball, the Gamecocks had to fight off the nation's top teams to keep him in state.
RB Mike Davis -- Although the Gamecocks are well stocked at the position, Davis will be given an opportunity to fight for the backup spot behind All-American Marcus Lattimore. Davis, like his brother James Davis, who played at Clemson and in the NFL, is a big performer who can run inside or outside.
QB Brendon Nosovitch -- The Pennsylvania Player of the Year will not be called on to contribute immediately, but the coaching staff is excited to add the Parade All-American to the roster. It marks the third straight year Steve Spurrier has gotten his top target at the position.
--Key players missing spring practice are RB Marcus Lattimore (knee), RB Shon Carson (knee), CB Akeem Auguste (foot), FS D.J. Swearinger (foot), RT Mike Marulis (shoulder).
--RB Kenny Miles has yet to inform the coaching staff if he plans to return for his final season. His actions indicate he will return, however, as he has taken part in all winder workouts and has gotten a majority of the work in the spring.
--CB Victor Hampton will get a chance to be a starter after playing a lot as a freshman. Although the coaching staff believes he takes too many chances, he is one of the most talented USC performers at the position in some time. If he becomes more disciplined, he could have a breakout season.
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