|South Carolina's 2013 schedule|
The SEC title game is Dec. 7 in Atlanta.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.