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The 2015 South Carolina Football Season Preview - Analysis, Schedule, Predictions and Great Expectations

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Let's do this thing.

Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

Last season was like a mule kick to the privates.  Right after the preseason hype, we fell to the ground. I consider 2014 one of the suckiest years in Gamecock history. Yeah, I do. Why? Plain and simple, GABA readers, we had great expectations of winning the East and beating the Tigers six straight. Instead, Clemson fans rejoiced as we limped away hunched over after losing in that "other' Death Valley.

Okay. So, who isn't a little anxious? We are hours away from kickoff. Look at all the new fresh faces on offense. We got some new guys on defense and some veteran linemen coming back. This team is ready to stifle all the critics. Speaking of critics, the HBC was calling some of them enemies and you know what? He's right. They can kiss our shrimp ‘n' grits. He is in it to win it. So with that being said, let's take a look at the quarterback, receivers, O-line, linebackers and some of the coaches. Davis will preview the rest of the team, and then our staff will predict the final record.

Will Connor be better than Connor?

Connor Mitch is the starter, but here is something really interesting. The Gamecocks' best years are with running style quarterbacks. The pocket passer QB under the HBC has been just average. Both Blake Mitchell and Stephen Garcia got us slightly above .500. And both had some memorable games. But the last year Garcia played, he was yanked mid-season and replaced with Connor Shaw and THAT year and we went 11-2. Shaw was successful for so many reasons but, mainly for his ability to escape defenders, tuck it and run.

Here is one more. Dylan Thompson chucked the ball 451 times last year and we went 7-6. The last time we threw that many passes was with Garcia who threw it 432 times for a 6-6 season back in 09.

Where am I going with all this? I don't know, but I do know that Steve Spurrier is a record breaker (84-45) and I do know that Mitch was an excellent quarterback in high school. Plus, Mitch has some of the "right" stuff, just like Shaw. He is calm, a student of the game, and has a winning attitude. I expect that Mitch will need to tuck and run it some this year. And, you can expect the Gamecocks will throw a lot this season especially if the o-line isn't able to open up many running lanes.

Is Pharoh Cooper the Terminator?

The answer is obvious. Yes. Cooper looks human, but he is not. He is a cyborg. He is The Coopernator. Here is what you really need to know. Almost all of the wideouts and tight ends that were targeted last year are G-O-N-E, and only two are back this year (Cooper and TE Jerell Adams). In order for Connor Mitch to be successful, these guys will need to make plays: Deebo Samuel, Carlton Heard, Terry Googer, Shamier Jeffrey, Christian Owens, Sean Odom, and Matrick Belton.

Last season, Cooper had 69 receptions for 1136 yards. He is a red zone TD machine. He is unstoppable, and he'll have defenders draped over him a like a wet blanket, which means a lot of opportunities for the others.

Oh, what about the O-line?

Here is the good news, Sparky. We have six linemen returning this year with Brandon Shell, Will Sport, Mike Matulis, Cody Waldrop, and Alan Knott.  Do we have depth at this position? Mmmmmaybe. The other news is that the left side is being retooled and our center, Clayton Stadnik, has moved to TE. So we may see a drop-off. Speaking of drop-off, the Gamecocks might benefit in the East as a lot of defenses aren't considered that strong.

Linebackers: What matters most: quantity or quality?

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Skai Moore MLB 6'2, 218 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8786 12 72.5 10.2% 2.5 1.0 3 0 0 1
Jonathan Walton WLB 6'0, 235 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8411 13 48.5 6.8% 2.5 0.0 1 2 0 0
Sharrod Golightly SLB
13 47.0 6.6% 7.5 1.5 1 3 0 0
T.J. Holloman MLB 6'2, 231 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8612 13 26.5 3.7% 2.5 1.0 0 1 0 0
Marcquis Roberts MLB
13 23.0 3.2% 1.5 0.0 0 2 0 0
Bryson Allen-Williams WLB 6'1, 233 So. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9503 12 22.5 3.2% 2.5 0.5 0 0 1 0
Kaiwan Lewis MLB
8 15.0 2.1% 1.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Larenz Bryant SLB 6'0, 220 Jr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9496 12 3.0 0.4% 1.0 1.0 0 0 1 0
Ernest Hawkins SLB 6'1, 224 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8419
Sherrod Pittman WLB 6'0, 225 Fr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.8950
Jalen Henry MLB 5'10, 207 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8423
Daniel Fennell LB 6'2, 205 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8640








Guess how many five-star college recruits played in Super Bowl 49? Zilch. Zero. Nada. And, zero is how many five-star linebackers we've got. However, we have quantity. Some of these linebackers will be playing in the NFL. Pause and look at these numbers for a sec. Skai Moore was putting on the hits in 2014. Moore will continue to be a key contributor to this defense. I really like Bryson Allen-Williams as the linebacker to watch this year. And, If everything goes well with the D-line, then this defense is going to be fine.

Who's the underdog?

Coach Spurrier is a living legend. He''s broke a lot of records while at USC. And, he has broken more headsets than any other coach. The HBC knows we are the underdogs. He knows that the season isn't going to be easy. We have maybe...one easy game? Yet, this team has a lot of talent but they have been wildly inconsistent. Now here comes Coach Hoke. He'll take on a defense that allowed a ton of yards and points. He will bring consistency to parts of our defense. We may be the underdogs. But behind that smirk, we just might be a little a better than the experts think. I think these coaches like being the underdogs.

Running Backs

Mike Davis departed in the offseason but his backfield mate Brandon Wilds remains. His partner will be Philadelphia-raised David Williams. The coaching staff doesn't believe there will be a drop-off from Wilds to Williams and neither should you. I don't expect any drop-off in the running game despite the loss of Davis. It shouldn't surprise you either if Williams outperforms Wilds this season. The redshirt sophomore is ready to play and perform.

Tight Ends

Jerell Adams is finally in the starting role and he has a long list of freshman capable of complementing him. From spring practice into fall camp, Kevin Crosby and Jacob August seemed to be the guys to back-up Adams after submitting impressive springs. The recently released depth chart held a few surprises, one being that Hayden Hurst and Kyle Markway were listed as the tight ends behind Adams. Weslye Saunders was the last USC tight end able to record two catches per game in a season (2009) and Adams hopes to end that streak, but with all the depth at his position, that feat may be unlikely.

Defensive Line

South Carolina's defensive line was probably the most disappointing position group last season. The Gamecocks were 118th in the country in sacks (14) and 121st in tackles-for-loss last year. Most of last season's line returns, hopefully improved, and they add two newcomers who will start from day one. Marquavius Lewis was a four-star recruit, the second-best defensive end and the No. 6 player overall in the JUCO ranks, according to ESPN. He finished with 11 sacks and 20.5 TFLs at Hutchinson (Kansas) C.C. last season. The Gamecocks also add DT/DE Dante Sawyer, who was ranked as a four-star prospect and the No. 3 junior college defensive end, according to ESPN. Lewis and Sawyer will be challenged with bringing the pressure the USC defense severely lacked last season.

Secondary

The secondary group wasn't as catastrophic as the defensive line last season but it was close. In the season's opening game against Texas A&M they looked completely lost. The group couldn't even line up correctly. Couple that with woeful angles and gangs of missed tackles, and you've got yourself a blowout. New co-defensive coordinator Jon Hoke joins the staff after coaching defensive backs the last 13 seasons in the NFL. He'll bring a fundamental approach that harps on all the details, big and little. The biggest surprise from this week's depth chart release was Chaz Elder as a starting cornerback. The former safety has good size and length, which is expected to fit with Hoke's new game-plan that will feature a zone-heavy look. Kansas graduate transfer Isaiah Johnson will be the starter at free safety. He was the 2013 Big 12 Newcomer of the Year and was KU's second-leading tackler last season.

Special Teams

South Carolina's kicking game should be one of the better units in the SEC. Walk-on transfer Sean Kelly takes on the full-time punting duties this season. His average yards per punt ranked 36th nationally in 2013 at Florida Atlantic, his last active season. Elliott Fry earned second-team All-SEC accolades from the conference's coaches last season and was one of 20 semifinalists for the Lou Groza Award, given to the nation's best kicker. Spurrier believes Fry will go down as the best kicker in South Carolina history. Something to keep in mind though: Fry is just 13-of-21 from 40 and beyond over the last two seasons.

Schedule

The Gamecocks possess one of the toughest schedules in the country thanks to a solid non-conference group and the always difficult SEC slate. Few teams can counter USC's OOC list: a dangerous UNC team, an underrated UCF squad, and playoff contender Clemson. The good news: five of the seven new SEC defensive coordinators are on the Gamecocks schedule (LSU, Florida, Vanderbilt, Texas A&M, Missouri) and UNC and Central Florida have new DCs as well. The Gamecocks could catch some breaks as teams are in the middle of shifting defensive responsibilities. Once again, the schedule offers a load of toss-up games. They didn't come out on the right side of those last season - will that flip this year?


Staff Roundtable Predictions *all final predictions are for the regular season*

Davis Williams: This team will be improved from last season and you'll see evidence of that. They'll provide some great moments and scare some unsuspecting teams. The talent's just not there at key positions to overcome this grinding schedule week-after-week. While the team and performance will improve, the record will be similar. Spurrier wraps up the season (amid retirement questions) with a bowl win. Prediction: 7-5.

Sydney Hunte: I feel that 7-5 will be a good bet. Losses to UCF (much better than they're given credit for), UGA, LSU, Mizzou and Clemson. (And yes, I have them down for winning at Tennessee even though Neyland has been a house of horrors every year, and even as I type this, I'm mulling marking UCF down as a win. We'll see.) Prediction: 7-5.

Kyle Bishop: It really starts to look like a 6-6 sort of season.  I'm not sure we can say we'll be the better team in any of our road games, and LSU could be excellent this year. Even if we get one of those, it'll take a very good team to not slip up once against Kentucky, UCF, Florida, Clemson, and UNC.  And again, it takes that type of talent/skill/luck just to get to 8-4.  If you want better, you're going to have to start winning road games against top-20 teams, which isn't a very easy thing to do. So I'm pessimistic on the year and think we land at 6-6 based not so much on the team but on the schedule.  The SEC is on a major upswing right now at the bottom of the conference, and it's going to be hard in years where we host Kentucky and Vanderbilt to find a lot of conference wins on the road. I look forward to being proven very, very wrong. Prediction: 6-6.

Kaci Barfield: I hate making predictions because I have to rein in my natural sports optimism and be somewhat realistic. So while a part of me is convinced that we'll only lose one game and we'll go to the CFB playoff and sports will be fun again, I think my prediction for the purpose of our preview will be 9-4. That's a bowl win and a record of 2-2 in our 4 SEC road games, plus a home loss to LSU. I'm on the fence about what the 4th loss will be. Maybe we'll actually be 1-3 on the road or maybe we'll have an incredibly stupid home loss to Kentucky. Prediction: 8-4.

Kevin Searcy: Betting on inexplicable losses is a UGA pastime and I'd like to think that we're better than that. The preseason is a time for hope and blind optimism, so put me down for 9 wins on the regular season.  Our defense can't go anywhere but up, the offense just needs one or two options not named Pharoh to throw the ball to in order to be a legitimate play-action threat, and the SEC East is still hot trash (see: Tennessee and Kentucky listed as legitimate preseason contenders).  So: win the games you should (UNC, citadel, USF, Vandy, Florida). Spitefully return the favor to a couple of teams that beat us last year (Kentucky, Texas A&M). Steal two against teams that should beat us (UGA, LSU)*. And come back to earth with a few tough-to-swallow losses later on (MIZZOU, Tennessee, Clemson). That'll set us up for a tight game against a middling B1G team within a calendar week of New Years, a nice redemption story and a few more retirement-drama free years with Spurrier at the helm. This post will expire before then, right? *Feel free to interchange Missouri with Georgia or LSU. Gary Pinkel really couldn't care less. Prediction: 9-3.

Sam McDowell: 8-4 with a big season ending win against Clemson. Road losses to UGA, A&M, and UT to go along with a heartbreaking loss to LSU at home. Oh and we're going to have a bunch of weird wins in-between these losses. Because that's the kind of season I think this team is going to have. Prediction: 8-4.

Connor Renfro: I'd say 9-4 since I'm gunning for the best-case scenario. Wins against UNC, Kentucky, UCF, Vandy, A&M, Tennessee, Florida and the Citadel in the reg. season with a bowl win in a not-so-terrible bowl. Losses to Georgia, Mizzou, LSU, and Clemson. Prediction: 8-4.

George Stevens: It's gonna be a long season. Prediction: 5-7.

James Shahid: I'll think we'll be somewhere between 7-5 and 8-4 for the regular season depending on how the ball bounces. I think a lot of our games are just straight up toss ups given recent history and the parody that seems to have taken over the east, and really the conference in general. Plus, I still think there's so much uncertainty surrounding a lot of these teams, including us, because of the number of unproven/young QB's out there. Prediction: 8-4.

Katie Dzwierzynski: Wins against UNC, UCF, Vandy (because I'll be at that game and I refuse to watch them lose to Vandy in person), and The Citadel seem likely. I'll be optimistic and say a thrilling win over UGA, a necessary win over Florida, and a surprise win over Clemson. I could go either way on the Texas A&M game. Kentucky and Tennessee seem to be a ruin-our-season kick, so I'll go with those two for we-shouldn't-lose-but-will games. I haven't seen South Carolina beat LSU ever and I don't expect that streak to end. I really don't like Missouri and am slightly bitter over their success in the SEC, which means they'll probably beat South Carolina again. Prediction: 8-4.