Phil Steele released his South Carolina projection today, picking the Gamecocks to finish #14th in the nation. Steele's prognistications are generally pretty good, but what you have to love about his stuff is the statistical smorgasbord he supplies. A few quick observations of Steele's observations:
- Steele calls Carolina's backfield "one of the premiere RB corps in the country." Hard to believe that, considering where we were in '08, huh? Back then, Steve Spurrier said that developing a competent running game would be one of our major goals in the coming years. Two years and two line coaches later, we're here. '09 brought improvement, but we were still one of the conference's worst. Last year, Lattimore emerged and Shawn Elliott worked magic for the line. This year, we could field one of the country's best running games. There's still no substitute for a punishing ground game, and the fact that we have one gives us a huge advantage coming into this season.
- Steele reports that "SC has had only 2 OL ever earn 1st Tm SEC (last in '98)." That's pretty pathetic; maybe T.J. Johnson can break the drought. Regardless, Steele also observes that we return as much experience as we did last year, with the returners combining for 70 career starts. With more time with Coach Elliott, you have to like this group's chance to improve some more.
- Steele's only qualm about our offense is--you guessed it--at QB. Steele projects Garcia to return, but he's clearly not high on Garcia's ability to get past his troubles, and projects a QB controversy. I'm not so sure. It's not that I don't think that he's right that Garcia's judgment is still questionable, but I also feel that if Spurrier thought Connor Shaw had a good chance of beating out Garcia, he wouldn't have given Garcia another chance. I would thus be very surprised if Garcia doesn't start every game this season; Garcia was brought back for a reason. The question remains, though, if Garcia is going to show much improvement. He was very solid early last season, outside of the fumbles at Auburn, at one point rising to the top five in passing efficiency. However, he fell off hard late in the season with two crappy performances in Atlanta. Can Garcia consistently play like he did against 'Bama or at least be a good game manager, or will he remain unpredictable and prone to games where he has lots of turnovers? That's the question.
- Steele says that he believes "the Gamecocks should have one of the most improved secondaries in the country." I find it hard to argue with that assertion. There's too much talent in this group for it to keep playing like it did last year, and, for the most part, we're returning a lot of experience.
- Steele also points out that while we lose some talent at LB, we're also returning Shaq Wilson, meaning that LB play may, in fact, improve.
- Steele rightfully projects the UGA game is likely the biggest of the season for Carolina. More on that soon.