IT’S FINALLY HERE!!!
After months and months of waiting, Gamecock football will kick off tomorrow night in Nashville. After a history-making, record-breaking 2011 season, USC is poised to have another banner year.
Behind the leadership of guys like Connor Shaw, Devin Taylor, D.J. Swearinger, and Marcus Lattimore, the Cocks will look to duplicate – or better yet, improve upon – last year’s successes. Even the Old Ball Coach likes the way things look for this season. Don’t crown them the conference (or national) champs yet, but Carolina will certainly be in the mix when it comes time to discuss who the legit contenders are.
For the first time in years, there is no QB controversy at South Carolina (insert sigh of relief here). Shaw is, at least right now, the quarterback with the highest winning percentage ever at USC. He has all the necessary tools, including a strong work ethic and dedication, to lead this team to victory.
Combine that with the fact that he’s got a solid number of starts and experience under his belt, and there’s no reason anyone should doubt that he’s our guy all season long, barring some sort of crazy circumstance.
Lattimore is back and healthy, which means he’ll probably get the bulk of the carries, at least in the early going. If he does well (and it’s almost unfathomable that he won’t), he’ll factor into Heisman talks. With Brandon Wilds missing time due to injury and a corps of young guys, Lattimore and Kenny Miles will be looked at to lead the way for the running game.
The loss of Alshon Jeffery is obviously going to be a factor, but the Cocks have a strong set of guys ready to step up. D.L. Moore, Ace Sanders, Bruce Ellington, Shaw Roland, and a supporting cast of others all look to see playing time this season. Will anyone be Alshon? No, but as long as they get catch the ball, move the chains, and find the endzone, we’ll be more than fine.
Melvin Ingram’s role will be hard to fill on the defensive side of the ball, but, much like the offense, there are plenty of guys ready to rise to the challenge. Taylor brings a wealth of defensive experience, and with Jadeveon Clowney now completely knowledgeable about the playbook (and given free rein to do what he does best), the Carolina defense will continue to be the Goon Squad.
The secondary is, as always, a bit of a concern. The loss of Akeem Auguste for at least part of the season isn’t exactly good news, but hopefully the young guys will be able to step up and get the job done (for what it’s worth, I think they can.) Special teams are also slightly concerning, and from reports, it seems the kicking game leaves at least a bit to be desired. We’ll have to wait and see on all that, I guess.
So what will we see Thursday night? Hopefully lots of good throws from Connor, a reasonable amount of carries by Marcus, and not a lot of scoring by the Dores. I don’t think this is going to be an “easy” win, though of course I hope we’re up 56-3 at the half. Outlandish score hopes aside, I think the Gamecocks will leave Nashville with a win.
Vandy has certainly gotten better recently, but I just don’t think they’re at quite the level yet where they can top Carolina. Jordan Rodgers is a capable quarterback, and they’ve got some playmakers on both sides of the ball. I just don’t think it’s enough to outperform the Gamecocks.
That being said, if USC doesn’t get a comfortable lead early on, and maintain that lead throughout the game, things could get tense. Vanderbilt’s not a powerhouse, but they’re not terrible, either, and Carolina is favored by only a touchdown or so. All the Dores need is an opportunity to turn momentum in their favor, and it could be bad news for South Carolina.
Vanderbilt seems to me to be more of a mid-season upset team, who might be able to catch a team when they’re tired or missing a bunch of guys due to injury and come away with a surprise victory. The Cocks have big expectations for this season, and I just don’t see them letting the Commodores get in the way of those.