2009 USC GAMECOCK SEASON FORECAST
Well, it’s the first week in September and the Gamecocks have already kicked off their season with a College Football Season Opening win against NC State on Thursday night. With their first game in the book, I aim to forecast how the Gamecocks will do this year. I have waited until after the first game to make an accurate forecast because college can be so unpredictable and team spring games mean and demonstrate little. Also, I like to see a little bit of playing time before making a fair assessment on a team, just like waiting past the preseason games to make an assessment on an NFL team. With that said, there were many positives to come from the Gamecocks first game, and this could be a team on the rise, on that just may…surprise!
Although Offense is Steve Spurrier’s undoubted favorite part of football and the part which he has the most knowledge of, this team struggled to move the chains vs. NC State. The Gamecocks missed many opportunities to score, in particular 2 visits to the red zone which did not result in TDs. Although this was disheartening, I assure you that this offense will pick up the slack and be more aggressive.
In 2009, the Gamecocks hired new offensive line/running game coordinator Eric Wolford, who apparently has had convinced Spurrier to make a commitment to the run. The Gamecocks did just this in the first half Thursday, and had success doing it! Brian Maddox demonstrated that he will be able to run through the tackles and downhill. Freshman Jarvis Giles impressed with his breakaway speed, quick moves, and ability to stay on his feet breaking a 22yd run. Giles will get better with the season and will be the future go to back. Patrick DiMarco is a stout fullback and will be their go-to short yardage back who can get across the line. Don’t forget about the 3rd back in the mix here, Garcia, who will take off and get the first down himself (against Spurrier’s will), if he can’t find anybody open.
Although Spurrier says he’s committed to the run, he will revert to his spread offensive ways, just as he relinquished the run and called predominantly pass plays in the second half of Thursdays game. Although the Gamecocks lost a dominating player in Kenny McKinley, Senior Moe Brown certainly has stepped up to be the leader of the receiving corps. Moe Brown will be the #1 WR, but Tori Gurley, a Redshirt Freshman, has obviously had some good practices and impressed the coaches because he has risen up the depth chart and will significantly contribute this season. Although Gurley has been impressive, don’t forget about second year player Jason Barnes who made some waves last year during his freshman year. Another sophomore, Dion Lecorn, could really become a factor, that is if he gets past his leg injury and legal issues. Although star TE Jared Cook left for the NFL, burly 280lbs Wesleye Saunders will be an adequate fill in at the least, and will be a nuisance to bring down after the catch and to get by in blocking situations. And finally, Stephen Garcia, who Spurrier has raved about, seems a lot smarter, more patient, and more comfortable in the pocket and will have a much better second year. Expect solid quarterback play from Garcia, and a pass catching offense that will improve as the year progresses and should nicely complement the running game.
Although Stephen seems more relaxed, he will be only as comfortable in the pocket this year as his line allows him to be, and if he starts to feel it collapse, he will ditch and try to make something happen (for good or bad!). The offensive line lost a usually solid starter in Jamon Meredith, the line gained a new coach and attitude. The new O-line coach has been emphasized these dough boys to be ‘nasty’ in the trenches and have a mean streak. From left to right, Jariel King, Terrence Campbell, Garret Anderson or Lemuel Jeanpierre, T.J. Johnson, and Quintin Richardson should be an okay group. They were able to open some holes against the Wolfpack and get a good push forward for fourth down and shorts, but occasionally struggled to give Garcia adequate time and space to deliver the ball.
Overall, this offense probably has improved from last year. The losses of RB Mike Davis, WR Kenny McKinley, and Jamon Meredith were significant, but the Gamecocks have had some good recruiting years and have been able to fill these spots with some talent. This offense in 2009 will be solid and probably won’t be high scoring, but it should improve from the nightmares that the Gamecocks had last year running the ball and throwing it while McKinley sat on the bench injured. Look for this new look offense to run the ball early, and then get impatient and go to full speed spread. This is what I observed from the game and anticipate from Spurrier, but running the ball will be a point of emphasis this year and the Gamecocks run game will be light-years better than they have been in the past.
On the Defensive side of the ball, there aren’t many changes from the 2008 season besides some new coordinators. Lorenzo Ward was hired from Arkansas to be the Gamecocks new defensive coordinator and has some very talented players to work with. The only subtractions this year are Captain Munnerlyn and Jasper Brinkley, which are significant losses. Although these two have forayed into the pros, there is a deep level of talent on the defense which carries the Gamecock mentality of fighting to the death.
Up front on the defensive line, there are some playmakers. Clifton Geathers, Nathan Pepper, Travarian Robertson, and Cliff Matthews each have demonstrated that they are adept at collapsing the line and getting to the quarterback. Newcomer Devin Taylor was so impressive in his debut vs. NC State that he has won over the starting spot and earned SEC defensive lineman of the week. This group of heavies is an A+ group and is one of the best in the country.
In the middle, the Cocks were lucky to retain SEC standout Eric Norwood, who will provide leadership and make a lot of the big stops. Norwood demonstrated his dominance with an 8tkl, 2tfl, and 2 sack game against the pack. Linebacker Rodney Paulk has been injured and is out for the year, but this should not be a huge loss as they talent behind him can well come in and fill in for him adequately. Alonzo Winfield will also play next to Norwood. While Norwood is the star in this group, the other backers should do just fine and should be able to pick up any leftover slack.
And per usual, the Gamecocks have talented but younger secondary. Chris Culliver, Darian Stewart, C.C. Whitlock and Akeem Auguste all return from last year and are excellent in coverage. Newbie Stephon Gilmore will be the starter and might have some first year oop-sies, but has incredible athleticism and will develop into a future star. Highly touted freshman Devonte Holloman also comes in and will probably learn the ropes from the sidelines this year before taking the field.
Just as the Gamecock ‘D’ shutdown the Wolfpack with only 133 yards total offense, this underrated and ultra talented group will dominate, force a lot of turnovers, and keep it close enough that the offense will have a chance to win games.
This part of the team lost kicker Ryan Succop, which was a loss, but Spencer Lanning should do just fine although he did miss an easy field goal Thursday. Lanning should also handle the punting duties. The return game lost McKinley and Munnerlyn, but Culliver, Auguste, and Gilmore will return them and all 3 have the quickness to break the big one. Overall, the kicking game, led by Shane Beamer (Frank Beamer’s son) should be average and has much to improve upon after their losses.
Final Prediction, All Things Considered…
Overall, the Gamecocks have finally come to a complete recruiting cycle and have gathered up some talent on their team and have been quietly getting better in the uber-competitive SEC. The past few years with the Ole’ Ball Coach, the Cocks have been consistently good and have put together back to back winning seasons, averaging about 7 wins a season. Just as past seasons have been very tough, this season will be no different. The Gamecocks by my estimate will probably win 7-8 games again simply due to the difficulty of their schedule, but could easily surprise some top teams if the offense can find a rhythm. The defense will keep the team close and in games, and should be nationally ranked. Although the Gamecocks have had a close rivalry with Georgia and lost some games to them in the past, I see a Gamecock win vs. the Bulldogs as long as their offense gets better. The Cocks will roll past Florida Atlantic, South Carolina State, and Kentucky. Vandy, Tennessee, and Clemson will all be close games but I think that the gamecocks will beat two of these teams (and hopefully and probably turn the tide on the South Carolina rivalry vs. the Tigers). Nationally ranked Florida, Bama, Ole’ Miss, Arkansas will be tough to beat, but I really think that this is the year that the Gamecocks will win against one of these top teams. On the whole, this is Steve Spurrier’s year to really impress and must keep his team together through the entire year as they have tended to start strong and get a streak going and then fall apart and lose composure. The Gamecocks should be strong and deep enough this year to compete at a high level even if some of their starters get injured. Overall, this will be a good year for the Gamecocks and will result in a winning season like usual for Spurrier, but this team really may surprise and get into the top 25 with their D.
Prediction: 8-4, and bowl invitation if the offense gets together, 7-5 and possibly a bowl if the offense struggles…