In a brief discussion post I made shortly after the Gamecocks' disappointing loss to the Auburn Tigers, I wrote the following sentence: "We are who we've always been. And we'll make noise that way." I'd like to qualify this statement, which was (1) written while I was having trouble with my computer and thus unable to write much more and (2) a cheap attempt at consoling myself after an emotionally draining loss.
This team still has a chance to make a lot of noise this year, but it is not what it always was. The reason it still has a good chance to make a lot of noise is because this remains the most talented team in South Carolina history. In fact, I'd be willing to suggest that it's in some ways turned out to be more talented than we thought that it would. Coming into the season, the primary concerns on this team were defensive. Could the secondary bounce back? Could the defensive line perform without Ladi Ajiboye and Cliff Matthews? We also had concerns on special teams. Could we develop a return game? Could Jay Wooten and Joey Scribner-Howard perform to the level of Spencer Lanning? The results have been positive. Melvin Ingram has emerged as a viable contender for national defensive player-of-the-year awards. The secondary has morphed into a serviceable unit. Wooten has made clutch kicks in two of our games. We're getting some good returns from time to time.
With these questions all more or less answered in the affirmative, we now stare down a relatively easy road back to the SEC Championship Game. Believe it or not, our toughest remaining opponent doesn't even have a bearing on the conference standings--it's Clemson. Despite what happened last week, if we can improve our play, we have a legitimate shot at running the table. Does 11-1 sound nice to you? It does to me, too. Even if I don't like our chances against LSU or Alabama in the SECCG, 11-2 would likely get us to the Sugar Bowl. And who knows? You just never know when things turn your way in a big game. Maybe we could beat LSU or Alabama. The reason we have the chance to do these things is precisely because this is such a talented, almost complete team.
The problem, though, is that we don't have a good quarterback--in fact, we don't even have an average one, at least not yet. And that's a really big problem. We're not only not going to go 11-1 if Connor Shaw or Stephen Garcia don't step up, we're likely not going to get back to 9 wins. I'm not holding my breath for Garcia to become that guy. That's why there's a lot riding on Shaw's performance this weekend. The fate of USC's most talented team hangs in the balance.