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Top 25 team preview: No. 6 South Carolina Gamecocks

Photo: J. Meric/Getty Images

Jadeveon Clowney racked up 13 sacks and 23.5 tackles for loss during his standout sophomore season.

South Carolina's 2013 schedule
DateOpponent
Aug. 29 vs. North Carolina
Sept. 7at Georgia
Sept. 14 vs. Vanderbilt
Sept. 28 at UCF
Oct. 5 vs. Kentucky
Oct. 12 at Arkansas
Oct. 19 at Tennessee
Oct. 26 at Missouri
Nov. 2 vs. Mississippi State
Nov. 16 vs. Florida
Nov. 23 vs. Coastal Carolina
Nov. 30 vs. Clemson

The SEC title game is Dec. 7 in Atlanta.

Top 25 Previews
1
Alabama
By Lars Anderson
 
2
Stanford
By Stewart Mandel
 
3
Texas A&M
By Stewart Mandel
 
4
Ohio State
By Stewart Mandel
 
5
Oregon
By Gabriel Baumgaertner
 
6
South Carolina
By Thayer Evans
 
7
Louisville
By Zac Ellis
 
8
Notre Dame
By Lars Anderson
 
9
Florida
By Andy Staples
 
10
Clemson
By Zac Ellis
 
11
Texas
By Stewart Mandel
 
12
Georgia
By Lars Anderson
 
13
Florida State
By Andy Staples
 
14
LSU
By Lars Anderson
 
15
Michigan State
By Ben Glicksman
 
16
TCU
By Dan Greene
 
17
Baylor
By Elizabeth McGarr McCue
 
18
Michigan
By Ted Keith
 
19
Oklahoma
By Richard Deitsch
 
20
Boise State
By Lars Anderson
 
21
UCLA
By R.J. Rico
 
22
Northwestern
By Gabriel Baumgaertner
 
23
Vanderbilt
By Zac Ellis
 
24
Northern Illinois
By Martin Rickman
 
25
Virginia Tech
By Zac Ellis
 

Can Alabama make a run at a third straight national title? Can Ohio State replicate last year's 12-0 campaign? Can Oregon maintain its standard of success under new leadership? With the college football season approaching, Sports Illustrated unveils its preseason Top 25.

For more college football preview content, check out SI's 2013 schedule guide, four teams that can beat Alabama package, preseason All-America Team, media roundtable and much more.

The case for

The Gamecocks are led on defense by college football's most feared player, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. Even scarier for opponents: The 6-foot-6, 274-pound junior reportedly ran the 40-yard dash in 4.46 seconds in July. On offense, coach Steve Spurrier has two quality quarterbacks in senior Connor Shaw, the returning starter who is also a running threat, and junior Dylan Thompson, a prototypical passer who went 2-0 last season while filling in when Shaw was out with shoulder and foot injuries. The offensive line returns four starters, led by 6-4 junior left guard A.J. Cann. There's depth at the skill positions, including 5-9 junior wide receiver Bruce Ellington and 6-5 junior tight end Rory Anderson.

The case against

Second-year defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward has lots of holes to fill after losing seven of his top 10 tacklers from a unit that was ranked 11th nationally in 2012. Not one player has started at linebacker or at the Spur, South Carolina's all-important hybrid linebacker-safety position. There are also questions about whether Spurrier can effectively manage his two-quarterback system as well as replace tailback Marcus Lattimore and receiver Ace Sanders, both of whom left early for the NFL.

Schedule analysis

The Gamecocks appear to have the easiest path to the SEC title game: Aside from a Week 2 visit to Georgia, all of their toughest games are in Columbia. If they beat the Bulldogs, the key will be not looking too far ahead to the Nov. 16 game against Florida, a matchup that should decide the SEC East crown.

Key stat

10-0: Shaw's regular-season record as a starter in home games, contests in which he's combined for 22 touchdown passes and only five interceptions. Shaw is just 5-3 in regular-season road tilts, with six touchdown passes and nine picks.

Breakout player

RB Mike Davis: It'll be tough to make South Carolina fans forget Lattimore, who Spurrier believes was the most popular player in school history. But the sophomore Davis has the speed and quickness to flourish in the Gamecocks' ground-heavy attack. The 5-9, 215-pounder averaged 5.3 yards per carry in limited playing time last year and added 10 pounds to his frame during the offseason.

Freshman to watch

LB Larenz Bryant: Bryant will make an immediate impact. At 6-feet and 215 pounds, he needs to add strength to be an every-down linebacker, but his athleticism, motor and instincts will get him by at Will, where he won't face as many blockers head-on.

X-factor

The quarterback situation: It remains to be seen if Spurrier can properly distribute playing time between Shaw and Thompson. The veteran coach is quick to point out that he used a two-quarterback system the last time he won an SEC title, when he was the coach at Florida in 2000, but striking the right balance won't be easy. Shaw is a dual-threat passer, while Thompson fits more into the pro-style mold.

Projected 2013 stats (By RotoWire.com)

QB Connor Shaw: 1,650 passing yards, 16 TDs; 480 rushing yards, 6 TDs

QB Dylan Thompson: 1,160 passing yards, 11 TDs; 25 rushing yards

RB Mike Davis: 800 rushing yards, 7 TDs; 225 receiving yards, 1 TD

Coach speak: Steve Spurrier

SI: How do you feel about your quarterbacks?

SS: We have two good quarterbacks. Connor [Shaw] is our starter and Dylan [Thompson] is ready. We want to tell one, "It's your game," but I don't know exactly how it's going to work out.

SI: You've won 11 games each of the past two seasons. How did you not win the SEC East either year?

SS: We've beaten Georgia, but then they don't lose again. That's happened two years in a row. They've won all their conference games after losing to us. We'll try to do the best we can this year.

SI: You've gone from the Fun 'n' Gun to a run-first offense. Why did you decide to do that?

SS: You coach to your talent. If you can't pass-block very well, if your quarterback is getting sacked and throwing interceptions, you can't throw very much. We started running a lot with Marcus Lattimore. He could take over the game.

SI: Is Jadeveon Clowney the best player you've coached?

SS: The best player? He might be the best defensive end. I don't know if he could play offensive guard or not. He probably could.

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