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2012 College Football Team Previews

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It might be time for the teams on the University of South Carolina's schedule to be concerned because Steve Spurrier's swagger appears to have returned.

Following a 2012 season in which the Gamecocks posted a school-record 11 wins, The Head Ball Coach believes his team may finally be ready to compete for its first Southeastern Conference championship.

The Head Ball Coach understands it won't be easy with LSU, Alabama, Arkansas and even Georgia standing in USC's way but, with a little luck, it just might be the Gamecocks time.

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"We've got a good team," said Spurrier. "We've had some good teams at South Carolina the last couple years. That's probably why I'm still coaching. Our teams are getting better. We've recruited better guys, got an excellent group of assistant coaches, our athletics director and boosters have built the facilities up to the best in the conference and we've been able to recruit outstanding players.

"We've still not won the SEC. That's our ultimate goal. We know it's not going to be easy. It would be extremely difficult. But that's our goal. That's what we're shooting for. Who knows if it can work out for us this coming year?"

The Gamecocks will have to replace some big names if it is to improve on last season's 11-2 standard. Two defensive performers, three-year starter Stephon Gilmore and defensive end Melvin Ingram, were first-round NFL draft choices. Another, record setting wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, was selected in the second round.

The return of running back Marcus Lattimore, in addition to an improved Connor Shaw at quarterback, has the coaching staff excited as Spurrier and company are convinced the offense will be improved.

After rushing for 1,197 yards and 17 touchdowns and catching 29 passes for 412 yards and two touchdowns as a freshman, Lattimore was on pace to break those marks as a sophomore when a knee injury against Mississippi State forced him to miss the second half of the season.

He is slated to begin preseason practice at 100 percent, physically and ready to play.

Despite the injury, Lattimore was the leading vote getter on the Preseason All-Southeastern Conference Team.

"Marcus rehabbed his knee beautifully," said Spurrier. "He did everything that was asked and probably a little bit more. He should be ready to go."

The Gamecocks were picked to finish second in the Eastern Division, behind Georgia in the SEC Preseason poll. That is mostly due to South Carolina having a more difficult league schedule than the Bulldogs. South Carolina appears to have the guns to potentially best them anyway.

Junior Shaw progressively improved as a passer, completing 41 of 55 attempts for eight touchdowns while suffering only one interception in the Gamecocks last three games.

Despite the team's losses on defense, sophomore Jadeveon Clowney and senior Devin Taylor could be the best combination at defensive end in the country.

HEAD COACH: Steve Spurrier, eighth year at South Carolina, 55-35 record at South Carolina, 197-75-2 as a college head coach and 244-116-2 as a NFL and College Head Coach.

MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER: RB Marcus Lattimore -- How much do the Gamecocks depend on the junior All-American? Enough that Steve Spurrier, known as the ultimate passing guru, has made his team run heavy to take advantage of his talents. Despite missing six games following season-ending knee surgery last season, he rushed for 818 yards and 10 touchdowns, while catching 19 passes for 182 yards and a score to make the second team of the AP's All-SEC squad. He has 2,015 career rushing yards, which includes 27 touchdowns and 48 receptions for three scores. If something happens to Lattimore, South Carolina has a strong stable of backs to rely on, including senior Kenny Miles, sophomore Brandon Wiles, redshirt freshman Shon Carson and true freshman Mike Davis.

BREAKOUT STAR: DT Kelcy Quarles -- The sophomore played in 12 of 13 games as true freshman, starting six and improved steadily during the 2011 season. He was named a second team freshman All-American after becoming an integral part of the front four as the season progressed. He took that intensity into spring practice where he appeared to take his game to another level. With all-star ends Clowney and Taylor returning, the pressure will be on Quarles to be a leader in the interior where Travian Robertson was lost to graduation. The 6-foot-4, 288-pounder finished his initial campaign with 28 tackles, including two for loss.

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NEWCOMER TO WATCH: WR Shaq Roland -- For four straight seasons South Carolina has signed the Palmetto State's Mr. Football. The first three stars -- Stephon Gilmore, Marcus Lattimore and Jadeveon Clowney -- made immediate impacts. Similar to his predecessors, he joins the team when it has a need at his position. A Parade All-American, he was responsible for 2,000 yards and 24 touchdowns as a senior at Lexington High School. With the loss of All-American Alshon Jeffery to the NFL, the chance to make an immediate impact is there. He is also a standout returner, which is another place the Gamecocks have been lacking in recent seasons.

KEY TO SUCCESS: The Gamecocks have been a run-first offense the last two seasons, thanks to the emergence of Lattimore as a consistent threat. Following Lattimore's season-ending knee injury the team continued to be primarily a running team with quarterback Shaw leading the way. That will continue to be the case, although Shaw's passing improvement both late in the 2012 season and during the spring gives Steve Spurrier hope the pass will be incorporated more by using both a talented tight end corps led by Justice Cunningham and Rory Anderson, along with wide receivers Ace Sanders and Bruce Ellington. On defense, ends Clowney and Taylor need to put consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks if the unit is to have a chance to be as good as or better than last year's edition.

AREAS OF CONCERN: No one stepped up to earn either the placekicking on punting jobs during spring practice. Neither Landon Ard nor Adam Yates have attempted a field goal or extra point for the Gamecocks and both were inconsistent during the spring. The same is true for punters Mike Williamson and Patrick Fish. The team could get help from incoming freshman placekicker Nick St. Germain. South Carolina will put its most talented offensive line in several seasons on the field but it is also young and inexperienced. Redshirt freshman Brandon Shell will take over at left tackle. He will not only be starting for the first time, but getting his first collegiate playing time. Sophomore right tackle Mike Matulis displayed promise, starting five games as a true freshman but was plagued with a shoulder injury. The line will be anchored by senior center T.J. Johnson and sophomore left guard A. J. Cann.

Notes

-- Sophomore defensive end Clowney picked up 12 tackles for loss, including eight sacks and six forced fumbles as a true freshman despite not having a solid understanding of the play book. Fellow defensive linemen Melvin Ingram and Travian Robertson were responsible for making sure the talented performer knew what to do in each play.

-- The school has been making improvements to its athletic facilities since Spurrier's arrival. Many of those have been at Williams-Brice Stadium where one of the final touches will be realized this season when a new state-of-the-art $6.5 million videoboard, measuring 36 feet-by-124 feet will be unveiled. The video board, which will be above the north stands in the stadium, will be the third-largest in the SEC. There will also be a new parking spot across from the stadium which has been patterned after 'The Grove' at the University of Mississippi.

-- DeVonte Holloman thought he would be switched to the hybrid defensive position of Spur a year ago, but injuries to teammates forced him to remain the team's starter at strong safety. This year the 6-2, 241-pounder will be closer to the ball where he will be more involved in helping stop the run, while also having a variety of duties in pass defense. Defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward believes his size, awareness and demeanor are perfect for the position.

-- Senior CB Akeem Auguste has been one of South Carolina's top cover guys since stepping on campus. An injured foot forced him to miss virtually the entire 2011 campaign. He was held out of spring practice but is expected to be ready when the season begins.

-- Senior FS D. J. Swearinger had surgery to repair a broken bone in his foot immediately following the 2011 season. He played on the injury for most of the campaign, but is now healed and ready to play.

-- Sophomore RT Mike Matulis played well enough as a true freshman to make Freshman All-American. He was forced to miss spring practice, however, after undergoing shoulder surgery. He is expected to be ready for the start of the season.

-- Sophomore SPUR Sharrod Golightly will miss the first three games of the season for academic reasons.

-- Redshirt freshman DE/DT Deon Green returns after missing the entire 2011 season following knee surgery. He is considered a player who can step in and help the team this year.

-- Senior FB Qua Gilchrist enters the season as the starter at his new position after receiving limited time at linebacker.

-- Redshirt freshman RB Shon Carson returns as a backup following season ending knee surgery last season.

 
 
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