College football guru Phil Steele has never been one to lack for enthusiasm when it comes to South Carolina football. Steele has often been bullish about his perception of our chances, frequently giving us major props and calling for us to win big games when other pundits have refused to pay us the same regard. Last year, Steele's respect was finally rewarded with a big season.
This year, Steele's love for the Gamecocks seems to have stepped into another stratosphere. There are Gamecocks galore on his Preseason All-SEC Squad. The following players made his squads:
1st Team: Alshon Jeffery, Marcus Lattimore, Devin Taylor, Stephon Gilmore
2nd Team: Travian Robertson
3rd Team: T.J. Johnson, Rokevious Watkins, Jadeveon Clowney
4th Team: Melvin Ingram, DeVonte Holloman
Moreover, Jeffery and Taylor made Steele's first-team All-America squads, while Lattimore and Gilmore made second-team.
It is also worth noting that Stephen Garcia would likely be Steele's third- or fourth-team QB if he were not currently suspended. Tyler Bray and John Brantley currently fill those roles, and I'm sure Steele sees Garcia as being better than Brantley and maybe Bray. Since Garcia's return is almost a near certainty at this point, in effect this means that we have another player on the list.
A few things are worth noting here. First of all, it would appear that Steele perceives Carolina's talent to be on par with the best in the SEC, and certainly the SEC East. A quick scan of the lists reveals the extent to which Steele's perception is that the West will again be the better division, as Alabama, Arkansas, and LSU dominate these lists. Carolina is up there, but we're perhaps a bit behind those three teams, which would seem to go along with the idea that we have a good chance to win the East again but will likely be underdogs in the SEC Championship Game if we make it there.
Secondly, you have to like the props Steele gives Clowney. Last year, Steele was one of the prognosticators who predicted that Lattimore would have an instant impact on the league last year. Let's hope he's right about Clowney, too.
Steele is still in the process of revealing his preseason Top 25. It will be interesting to see how high Carolina is on his projections, as well as whether or not he believes we're the favorites to win the SEC East and / or the SEC itself.