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South Carolina Football 2011: Surprises and Fulfilled Expectations

Let's play a little game. I saw something like this on a message board recently, and it sparked interesting discussion, so I thought we should try it here. Name and explain three things that surprised you about this season, and three things that didn't surprise you but that might have. This should be interesting, of course, because the season has, to say the least, been an odd one for the Gamecocks.

I'll start.

Surprised (in order from most to least)

1. Brandon Wilds. This kid totally shocked me. I heard the positive reports about his play in training camp, but I would have never thought that he would be able to fill in for an injured Marcus Lattimore the way that he did. And make no mistake, he was phenomenal; three 100-yard games in the final five games of the season is borderline All-SEC numbers. Toss in his impressive receiving yards, and you've got a very solid back. If he learns to block better, he'll likely continue to get plenty of playing time when Lattimore returns. Not bad for someone who a lot of recruiting experts thought we probably shouldn't have offered.

2. Stephen Garcia. I thought that Garcia, at worst, would simply be his 2010 self, and I didn't think he'd do something to get kicked off the team. On the former, I simply didn't see him regressing back to his 2008 self; heck, at least in 2008 he played well against Kentucky, so he actually regressed beyond anything he had ever done. There's been a lot of speculation about why he struggled, but, needless to say, his struggles weren't to be expected from someone who had at least proven last season that he could be a good QB most of the time. Regarding the latter, I thought that Garcia should have been kicked off the team back in the spring, and in hindsight, that would have been the right decision. However, I got behind the coaches' reasoning for giving him another chance, and I thought he would make good on it. I'm not going to rag the kid for what he did, because I think there is probably something going on there that we're not aware of, but it surprised me.

3. Alshon Jeffery. Yes, there are lots of good explanations for what happened with the big fella over the course of the season. He's dealt with coverages that have been specially designed to stop him. Early in the year, Garcia couldn't throw an accurate pass his way. Later in the year, our offensive line couldn't protect Shaw and we started running the option. Still, I never would have thought that we'd have this much trouble getting him the ball. It just seems kind of shocking to think we've got a first-round talent on our team and he only caught for 600 yards and never had a 100-yard game.

Keep reading after the jump.

Not Surprised

1. Connor Shaw. I was behind starting him against ECU. Nothing about Garcia's performances over the past few years made me feel that Garcia was categorically a better QB than Shaw, based on what we saw from Shaw in limited time last year and what we heard about him from practice. Things didn't work out at ECU, and I think Spurrier made the right decision to stick with Garcia for a few games. However, Shaw did turn out to be the better QB, and since taking over he's improved incrementally each week. We got a glimpse of just how good he can be this past weekend, and, considering his work ethic, I think we're going to have a very good QB next season. If Tanner McEvoy pushes Shaw for PT, it won't be because Shaw stinks. I could honestly see him developing into an All-SEC-type player if he learns to work the pocket better.

2. Overall Record. Before the season, I picked us to go 11-1 with a loss to Arkansas. The Auburn loss was a bad one, a game we never should have lost; take a look at what the other 10-win SEC teams did to Aubie and you'll see what I mean. The loss was mostly attributable to Garcia's poor play, and in that sense it was unexpected. That said, we came close to my 11 wins by getting to 10, so I wasn't far off.

I guess the real question comes when you consider that we lost Garcia and Lattimore. Lots of folks thought we'd fold after that. However, week to week, I actually picked us to win every game after the Auburn loss. Yes, the Arkansas pick was a huge stretch, which I realized at the time. But the others won't. I'm not surprised that we finished 10-2 after losing Garcia and Lattimore. I was surprised sometimes at how we did it, though; I thought we'd throw the ball better against Tenn., Ark., etc., after watching Shaw light up Kentucky, but instead we ran the ball. I think our coaches made some good adjustments to deal with some of these unexpected difficulties. However, going into most of these games, we had a huge advantage on the defensive line, and we were always able to muster enough offense to win. And yes, it was partially because some of the teams we played were average at best. At any rate, the talking heads who thought we'd lose all our games after Lattimore went down were simply being blind. Tenn., Florida, and, yes, Clemson, were never winning those games. Florida, maybe, but the others no.

3. Whipping Clemson. I hate to lay on our orange-and-purple friends...OK, I really don't. At any rate, their downfall and loss to us were to be expected, and I don't mean that in some vague "that's just what Clemson does" sense. When Clemson gets their act together, they'll no longer do "what Clemson does." Same has been true for us; when we put a better team on the field the past two years, those November slides haven't happened. Clemson's problem this year was evident from the first game, and it's one Gamecocks fans know well--the Tigers are soft in the interior. They were able to mask their problems throughout the middle part of the season; it's shocking to think about how they did against FSU and VT, now that I think about it. But their problems came back to bite them as teams figured out how to exploit their weaknesses. We had all the matchup advantages to exploit those weaknesses from the beginning, so it's no surprise that we did so.

OK--your turn. Also your turn to call me crazy.