March 4, 2014
The first spring football practice for the University of South Carolina football team scheduled for March 4, has been postponed due to inclement weather. No makeup date has been announced.
GAMECOCKS SET FOR SPRING DRILLS
Been there. Done that.
First in 2011. Then again in 2012. And for a third-straight time in 2013.
* 11-2 overall.
* 6-2 in the SEC.
* New Year's Day bowl win.
* Top-10 finish in the national polls.
For three straight seasons South Carolina has been hobknobing with the elite programs of the college football world. The Gamecocks are one of only three teams, along with Alabama and Oregon, to finish in the Top-10 in the country in each of the last three seasons. They are also one of only 12 teams with 40 or more wins over the past four campaigns and have been ranked for a school-record 64 consecutive polls, tying for the fifth-longest current streak in the nation.
But there's still more to be accomplished. The Gamecocks have fallen short in their quest for the "holy grail" - to capture an SEC Championship. Since reaching the title game in 2010, Carolina has defeated the Eastern Division champion in each of the past three seasons, only to come up a game short of a trip to Atlanta. Could 2014 be the year of the Gamecock?
Only time will tell, but the Gamecocks will try to capitalize on the momentum they've built and have that one goal of an SEC title in mind as they embark on their 15 spring practices in year 10 of the Steve Spurrier Era in what has become the "Golden Age" of South Carolina football history.
Buoyed by the return of 58 lettermen, including 16 starters from a squad that has to be regarded as the best team in school history following a No. 4 finish in both national polls, the Gamecocks have built their program to where they can withstand the loss of the winningest quarterback in school history and quite possibly the first player taken in the NFL Draft, and still be considered one of the favorites in the SEC East and a preseason top-10 candidate again in 2014.
Once again, the road to the Georgia Dome and the SEC Championship Game will be challenging. The Gamecocks will put their 18-game home winning streak, the nation's longest, on the line right away, as they open the season on Thursday, August 28, against Texas A&M. That contest will also be the first game on the new SEC Network. After a non-conference home game against East Carolina, the Gamecocks will face four SEC Eastern Division foes over a four-week stretch, with Georgia, Vanderbilt, Missouri and Kentucky on the docket. The Georgia game is always an early season litmus test, Vandy has been much-improved but will be breaking in a new head coach, Missouri is the defending East champions, and Kentucky has some positive momentum after back-to-back strong recruiting classes. After a much-needed off week and a date with FCS Furman, the Gamecocks will wrap up their SEC slate with contests against defending SEC champion Auburn, Tennessee, which handed Carolina one of its two losses a season ago, and a hungry Florida squad, with two of those tilts coming on the road. Non-conference games on the opposite ends of the familiarity spectrum wrap up the season, as the Gamecocks will face South Alabama for the first time ever, and Clemson for the 112th time. Carolina will be looking to make it six-straight wins over their instate rivals.
Several questions will need to be answered if the Gamecocks are to challenge for the SEC East crown again in 2014. While some of those questions may be answered in the spring, others may not be fully resolved until the fall. Some include:
* Which underclassman will take advantage of increased snaps in the spring and become the the heir apparent to Thompson at the quarterback position?
* Can the offensive line, which returns four starters and has the most experience and depth since Coach Spurrier's arrival, becoming a dominating group, one that is considered among the best in the SEC?
* Which wide receiver(s) will step up to replace two-sport standout Bruce Ellington, who always seemed to come up big in the biggest games?
* How much improved will the young linebackers be with a year of experience under their collective belts after being thrown into the fire last year?
* How quickly can the young cornerbacks adapt to the challenges of being "on an island" at the major college level?
Those and other questions will begin to be answered when the Gamecocks open their spring practice schedule on Tuesday, March 4. The allotted 15 practices will wrap up with the annual Garnet & Black Spring Game on Saturday, April 12.
The Carolina offense officially returns eight starters, including four on the offensive line, from a squad that averaged 34 points per game a season ago, while setting a school record with 5,880 total yards. Gone are three pretty good ones in quarterback Connor Shaw, wide receiver and two-sport standout Bruce Ellington, a two-year starter at right guard Ronald Patrick. Senior signal-caller Dylan Thompson has been waiting patiently for his chance to take over the reins. He will be aided by a deep backfield that includes a possible Heisman Trophy candidate in Mike Davis, along with Brandon Wilds, Shon Carson, and redshirt freshman David Williams. The wide receivers and tight ends return en masse, with the exception of Ellington. Shaq Roland and Pharoh Cooper are two players the Carolina coaches want to see with the ball in their hands. The veteran offensive line features three players that have started at least two seasons and could be one of the league's best. The Gamecocks return 78 percent of their rushing yards, 26 percent of their passing yards and 76 percent of their receiving yards from a year ago.
South Carolina has built a reputation for having one of the better defenses in the SEC and in the country. In 2013, the Gamecocks ranked in the top-20 nationally in scoring defense (12th), passing defense (12th) and total defense (19th). Defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward and his staff will look to replace five key members of that unit, including All-America defensive linemen Jadeveon Clowney and Kelcy Quarles, and fifth-year seniors Chaz Sutton and Jimmy Legree, along with cornerback Victor Hampton. The strength of this year's unit should come in the linebacking corps, where everyone returns, led by Skai Moore and Kaiwan Lewis, two of the team's top three tacklers, along with Spur Sharrod Golightly, a second-team All-SEC pick. The safety position appears to be in good hands with four experienced players returning. The questions will come along the defensive line, where J.T. Surratt is the lone returning starter, and at cornerback, where departures have left the ranks a little thin for the spring, but reinforcements are on the way this fall.
The Gamecocks return all of their special teams performers from a year ago, so coordinator Joe Robinson has a pretty good idea of who his guys will be in 2014. Elliott Fry, who walked on to the squad last summer, proved to be one of the biggest surprises of the season, as he developed into a Freshman All-SEC placekicker. Pharoh Cooper also earned Freshman All-SEC recognition as a return specialist. Tyler Hull (punter), Landon Ard (kickoffs), Ryland Culbertson (short snapper) and Drew Williams (deep snapper) all return as well.
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