At the dawn of each new August, college football beat writers across the country take to their computers to inform you that every player on every team is reporting to camp in the best shape of his life and that every team's new strength and conditioning staff is expected to pay dividends in the fourth quarters of hotly contested games in October. Conversely, national writers seem to think that, when a player at a given position graduates, Steve Spurrier will have to replace him with the first homeless person he finds conked out next to the Five Points fountain. (Because knowing about players other than those that started last season would require, you know, research and stuff.) As fans, we frequently go wrong by assuming that a player's performance in the upcoming season will be some positively sloped function of his potential, experience, and past performance. But this is not always what ends up happening. Sometimes, for whatever reason, a player just can't make that next step in what seems should be a logical skill progression. Other times, players who performed admirably in the prior season take a step back.
At this time of year, It's a struggle to avoid getting caught up in the whirlwind and find a way to differentiate the news from the noise, which makes life a bit difficult for the reasonable fan who wants to adequately prepare himself for the emotional turmoil of the upcoming season by properly calibrating his expectations for the team and its component parts. To prepare you for the maelstrom that lies ahead, I'm going to present the best and worst case scenarios for the 2012 football team, broken down by position group. I'll start with the worst case scenario for no better reason than that it seems the most inflammatory.
Keep reading after the jump.
Connor Shaw’s late season gains prove to be a mirage and his aerial game reverts to being "good enough for a running QB." His inability to throw the ball effectively requires him to run more, resulting in an injury and Dylan Thompson becoming a starting quarterback in the SEC.
While reports out of fall camp seem to indicate that Dylan Thompson has taken a big step forward in his development, think about where he'd rank today among other starting quarterbacks in the league. That's right, 11th. (Sorry, Kentucky.) Especially with Tanner McEvoy transferring out of the program, it would be good to see Thompson get some playing time during the mop-up portions of games against the likes of UAB, but if he has to take meaningful snaps during the UGa-LSU-UF-UT-Ark murderers' row part of the schedule, the 2012 season will likely not have lived up to expectations.
DeAngelo Smith and D.L. Moore still can’t find a way to carry over their success in practice to game situations, and Steve Spurrier, Jr. must rely heavily on freshmen to populate the non-Ace Sanders part of his wide receiver corps. Damiere Byrd remains as fast as ever, but still can’t haul in the big catch when Shaw hits him on the deep ball.
If this scenario comes to fruition, the Gamecocks would likely have an extremely pedestrian receiving corps that will struggle for most of the season (with occasional glimpses of future brilliance from guys like Shaq Roland and Kwinton Smith).
Merely suggesting this as a hypothetical threatens to uproot my entire Lattimore-based belief system, but there’s still a chance that Marcus comes back from knee surgery a very good back but not the game-, nay, season-, nay, program-changing back that he was in 2010 and 2011.
The chasm between Travian Robertson and Byron Jerideau proves to be greater than expected, resulting in a number of gaping chasms in the defensive line that leave inaugural Lorenzo Ward defense susceptible to the run in a way that we haven’t seen since Tyrone Nix's "Heisman-Maker" defense in 2007.
Injuries on the offensive line expose a shallow depth chart.
The total game appearances by the backups on the offensive line? 10. If there are injuries to the starting five, this situation could deteriorate rapidly.
Akeem Auguste can’t stay healthy and Jimmy Legree becomes our starting cornerback.
Brison Williams proves to be unprepared for a starter’s role at strong safety, and it's revealed that his club hand was the secret to his powers in 2011.
Joe Robinson can’t find someone who can punt the ball more than 10 yards.
Reports out of practice on Mike Williamson and Patrick Fish have not been very encouraging. Transfer Tyler Hull arrived on campus Tuesday and had some nice kicks in individual workouts but struggled a bit once he had defenders coming at him. Obviously, it's hard to make a fair assessment after just one practice, but this is a situation to monitor closely.
Can the Gamecocks still be competitive if these things happen?
Don't hate me, but if all or most of these things happen, expectations for this team stop being 10-2 or 11-1 and start looking a lot more like 7-5 or (gulp) 6-6. Obviously, it's unlikely that everything will go wrong for the 2012 squad, and it's likely that some good things will develop that we're not even thinking about right now. (More on that in my next post.) And heck, some really messed up stuff happened to the 2011 team, but my recollection is that they turned out OK.