While I spent most of my time at ChickenHoops focused on our basketball program, I'm going to try to branch out a bit during football season (though my primary work here will still center around the hardwood). In any event, since most of what I do involves trying to apply statistical analysis to South Carolina's athletic programs, I thought a great way to continue my first week at GABA would be to write a post that summarizes the season previews of one of my favorite writers on the SBNation network - Bill Connelly.
Bill's a Missouri fan, also the purveyor of FootballStudyHall, and has painstakingly put together a preview of every college football team in the land for 2013. While I encourage you to read as many of them as interest you, clearly the ones that are of most relevance to you as a fan (aside of course, from his preview of our Gamecocks), are the previews of our opponents. So, I've gone through and linked each of those here, and pulled out an interestingly excerpt or two for you. I'm also linking the previews that GamecockMan put together here on GABA, so consider this your one-stop shop for previewing the 2013 season as we wind ever closer to kickoff.
A big thanks to the guys over at Tomahawk Nation for inspiring the idea.
Bill thinks Fedora will bring a decent Tar Heel team to Columbia, and notes they will be led in part by former Gaffney product Quishad Davis, who excelled in the North Carolina offense last year. He'll help the Tar Heels try to put together a second consecutive top 30 offense:
However, he also noted that the Tar Heels defense struggled last year, particularly on third down, and that could continue to haunt them in 2013:
Connelly tells me what I know I know but keep forgetting in my fear of an actually decent first opponent: while the Tar Heels have some strengths, they simply are not as good as the Gamecocks this season, and that coupled with home-field advantage should lead the Gamecocks to a 1-0 record to start the season.
September 7 - @ Georgia (GABA preview)
Connelly points out in his article something that Gamecock fans who only watched our game against the Bulldogs might not realize - that Georgia put together one of the best offenses in the country last season, and that they're returning most of the pieces that helped fuel that offense:
On the other side of the ball, the Georgia defense needs to replace a lot of pieces from a defense that, last year, was generally very good, but wasn't elite by any stretch, particularly by the standards that have been set by many in the SEC (Alabama, LSU, Florida, and yes, South Carolina) in the last few years:
So where do the Dawgs end up? As anyone who previews Georgia this season notes, how good a season Richt and company can put together down in Athens this year will be decided in the first two weeks of the year, when they travel to Clemson and host the Gamecocks.
September 14 - Vanderbilt (GABA preview)
Connelly sees some potential for the Vanderbilt offense to put together a decent season this year, improving on a season where they finished a rather lowly 77th in S&P+ in the NCAA. Last year's success focused primarily on departed Zac Stacy overcoming a weak offensive line, but also on Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd playing like elite receivers, despite the attention they drew from defenses each week:
While the defensive line has some issues, Vanderbilt does return some talent on defense, and could take the next step from a top 50 team to a top 30 team, if its lines on both sides of the ball can get better. One area where Vanderbilt did excellent work last season (and where Carolina seems to perennially struggle) was on special teams:
While the schedule does Vanderbilt no favors in their quest to return to a third straight bowl game, the fact that we're sitting here noting the fact the schedule impacts their ability to make a bowl (rather than their own ineptness preventing them from attending, as was true basically their entire history prior to Franklin's arrival) says a lot about how far Vanderbilt has come in the last few years.
September 28 - @ Central Florida (GABA preview)
Central Florida moves to the American Athletic Conference this season, which is a good name for a conference that basically houses everyone who used be in Conference USA. George O'Leary has built a consistent program down in Orlando, and the Gamecocks will need to be on upset alert as they make the trip that exists only because Eric Hyman really did have flaws as an athletic director (this game and every game against Wofford top his list of scheduling errors, for one), despite the sunshine pumping you always saw written about him at some premium sites.
As for the 2013 Knights, the offense was a top 40 unit last season, and could improve on that performance given what they have coming back:
the Knights return a steady quarterback, a potential stud running back (with "potential" being the key word), four to six strong receivers, and a line that should still be at least decent. Really, this year's questions could come on defense.
While UCF loses two offensive linemen from last year's squad, its firepower at the skill positions could test our defense, especially if we're looking ahead to [checks schedule] - phew, we play Kentucky next week. Hopefully we won't be looking ahead.
On the other side of the ball, it'll be hard to know how good UCF will be this year. They return 5 starters from a unit that placed 56th in S&P+ last season, and while those players should improve, O'Leary's reluctance to turn to his bench means we won't know how good those other 6 players are until they take the field this fall:
The downside to playing with an intentionally small bench is that you end up with a lot of unknown quantities in the offseason. If [the] youngsters are stable and reasonably consistent, UCF's defense should once again find itself in the defensive top 50. But if not, the Knights could bleed over onto the wrong side of the top 50 again.
While I'm still pretty furious we scheduled this game, the preview (along with the fact a bye week and Kentucky bookend the game for us, while UCF travels to Happy Valley the weekend before) makes me think that USC should be able to avoid a trap game in Orlando. Thanks again, Eric!
October 5 - Kentucky (GABA preview)
With coaching changes occurring on the campuses of each of our next three opponents, the previews take a turn from analyzing the minor changes that will occur from year-to-year for our opposition to the wholesale changes you'll see on the field as each school tries to acclimate to their new coaching staff.
Kentucky may struggle with one of those classic bugaboos - the personnel and staff not matching, as the former was recruited by a different version of the latter:
That, coupled with a defense that simply does not have upperclassmen with the talent needed to compete in the SEC, leads to the conclusion that the Wildcats will likely remain at the bottom of the SEC East heap, at least for 2013:
October 12 - @ Arkansas (GABA preview)
Connelly notes that the data clearly indicates something that shouldn't come as too large a surprise (though the magnitude is somewhat surprising) - Tyler Wilson is what made the Arkansas offense go last season. Even against the Gamecocks, Arkansas moved the ball effectively, with turnovers being their great undoing.
Under new coach Bret Bielema, formerly of Wisconsin, Arkansas will try to re-build from a calamitous one-year John L. Smith Era. That re-build will require a substantial upgrade on both sides of the ball, particularly in the back seven of the defense:
9. Does experience matter?
Just our luck that as soon as the Hogs fall off, we move away from them as a permanent opponent. Thanks again, Hyman.
October 19 - @ Tennessee (GABA preview)
The three game road trip continues with a swing through Knoxville to take on the Bruce Jones led Tennessee Volunteers. The Vols have struggled to match their production with their talent in the last few seasons, which led to the departure of Derek Dooley. Last year, the Vols matched a top 10 offense with a piss-poor defense. This year, a lot of the weapons that made that offense go have departed, and they'll once again be trying on a new defensive scheme.
The passing game was the star for Tennessee, and all of the primary pieces of that passing game are gone, namely Tyler Bray and his top four targets. Last year's backup, Justin Worley, barely played (and looked far from amazing when he did), and the top returning targets are two running backs and a receiver who averaged 2.3 yards per target last year. There are former four-star recruits everywhere you look -- quarterback Nathan Peterman, running backs Rajion Neal and Marlin Lane, receivers Alton Howard, Drae Bowls, Jason Croom, Marquez North, and Paul Harris -- but they are all ultra-young and completely unproven. This is probably going to take some patience.
However, they do return a substantial part of a unit that was a strength of their 2012 team - the offensive line.
The defense was a weak unit last season, and while talent remains, the switch to a 4-3 and the level of production last season (which makes you wonder how good those recruits really were) cautions against expecting too much from that unit this season. In sum, Connelly lists our game with the Volunteers as one of the make-or-break games of their season:
Calling this schedule top-heavy doesn't really do it justice. Tennessee plays only two teams projected between ninth and 49th, with between four and five built-in losses and between three and five built-in wins (depending on your level of optimism). Those middle games -- South Carolina [19th], at Missouri [39th], Vanderbilt [49th] -- will probably dictate whether the Vols go bowling for the first time in three years.
October 26 - @ Missouri (GABA preview)
Speaking of Mizzou, the Gamecocks follow their trip to Tennessee with a visit to Other Columbia. Missouri picked a bad year to suffer injuries and regression to their arc under Pinkel, and the SEC schedule exposed those weaknesses ruthlessly. One of the areas the Tigers fell off furthest was offensive line, partially because of injuries:
Mizzou's line regressed an incredible amount in 2012, from second in Adj. Line Yards to almost 100th. The fall was so steep that you really can't blame injuries for all of it; the same, actually, goes for a 2012 offense that plummeted overall from 24th to 85th in Off. F/+. Almost no team outside of Alabama can withstand that many personnel issues without a decent drop-off, but 60 spots? While the national focus will be mostly on the quarterback battle -- Franklin held off Berkstresser and high school yardage king Maty Mauk this spring, but the fight continues in August -- the magnitude of the line's improvement will determine a good portion of Mizzou's 2013 fate.
They'll try to right the ship under new offensive coordinator Josh Henson.
The defense kept Missouri in quite a few games, but ultimately wore out as the season progressed. The fact that they lose Sheldon Richardson could portend trouble this year, as the defense will need to hold the line (41st nationally in F/+ last year) to allow the offense's improvement to register as team improvement, not just an offset for a weakening defense:
November 2 - Mississippi State (GABA preview)
A question that could be raised around the South Carolina program has been raised around Mississippi State - how good can you expect to be? Mullen has obviously improved State above where they were under his immediate predecessor (Croom), but would fans rather have newness (and an increased chance of failure) to consistent mediocrity?
The offense will be what it seems to be from State under Mullen - run-focused.
With a well-seasoned line (five players with starting experience, 95 career starts from a line that was Top 30 in both run blocking and pass protection) and a solid backfield -- one that might be deeper in 2013 if youngsters like Josh Robinson, Derrick Milton, or even fresh man Ashton Shumpert take enough of a leap to steal some of Perkins' carries -- the MSU run game should be stellar. But some young receivers will need to quickly establish a strong rapport with Russell to make sure that progression in the run game isn't met with equal regression in the passing game.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Bulldogs will need to improve if they hope to stop teams from successfully passing on them in 2013:
In sum, State's schedule is tough enough (Oklahoma State in non-conference, along with the SEC West gauntlet and us from the East) that getting to a bowl would be a successful season, but after their recent taste of semi-success, 6-6 may be seen as a step backward, despite the fact it could come with an improved team.
November 16 - Florida (GABA preview)
Florida's version of Murderball did quite well for the Gators last year, though they came up just short of the prize they sought - a trip to Atlanta - and responded to that misfortune by completely failing to show up in the Sugar Bowl versus Louisville. The Gators relied heavily on their defense. While the offense was not as bad as it appeared in conventional statistics, it certainly was not the strength of the team:
This season, the Gators return a ton of talent all across the defense, but we shouldn't sell short the losses of Matt Elam, Josh Evans, and Jon Bostic. Florida still has the potential to put together an elite defense, but there should be at least some concern that the pieces won't come together as easily as they did last season:
Overall, while the Gators keep showing up in pre-season magazines as set for 3rd in the SEC East, it should not come as a surprise if they, by season's end, return to Atlanta.
November 23 - Coastal Carolina (GABA preview)
While it would not surprise me to learn that Bill plans to also preview our FCS games in 2013, at this point, we'll have to do what pretty much every preview does and assume that, given that Coastal Carolina is not in FBS, we will handle this game without issue.
Connelly recognizes a reality some Gamecock fans hate to face - Clemson is going to put a good team on the field in 2013.
The offense was stellar last season, and even put together a fine running game against the Gamecocks, but it might be overly reliant on Tajh Boyd and his ability to stay upright over the course of the season. And that's not a guarantee, given the pounding he takes:
The Tigers also need to make up for the loss of Andre Ellington and Deandre Hopkins. One way they will not be able to do that is through the tight end position, where the Tigers have struggled with injuries this fall.
On the other side of the ball, the Tigers enter Year 2 under Brent Venables, and the defense showed steady improvement throughout the season, which could lead to improvement in 2013. While Connelly believes the Tigers defensive line should withstand the loss of Malliciah Goodman, the back seven still have to prove themselves:
While Connelly is overall optimistic about our neighbors to the northwest, I'd be remiss not to end this column with my favorite line of his entire series:
This team gets Georgia and Florida State at home, and aside from the secondary (a serious question mark), I like just about every unit. Eighth is really, really high, too high for me to cosign. But the upside is there, and the schedule is friendly (at least, until the season-ending trip to South Carolina that is all but guaranteed to end in pain).
More from Garnet And Black Attack:
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- Join the Garnet and Black Attack College Football Pick 'Em
- Measuring Coaching Ability - Applying Lessons from FootballStudyHall to USC and Its Rivals
- Restaurant names wrap after Jadeveon Clowney, is not allowed to name wrap after Jadeveon Clowney
- The Final Cockdown: #14 Connor Shaw