You smell that?
No, not that.
That’s the smell of football in the air people. We’re speeding towards Thursday, August 30 like a Silver Bullet train, and expectations for Gamecock football have never been higher. An SEC Championship Game appearance is a reasonable expectation. And a 9-3 regular season feels kinda…meh.
Over the next week we’ll show you what a SEC Championship season looks like, and what 9-3 or worse looks like with best case/worst case scenarios for Gamecock offense, defense and special teams.
And we begin with…The Offense. (Note: In the best case/worst case scenarios, we cannot, will not, and do not assume injuries.)
Best Case – Connor Shaw picks up where he left off in 2011 and becomes the poster boy for dual-threat quarterbacks in the NCAA. He runs the offense with complete confidence. As a passer, he makes good decisions with the ball, goes through progressions, and only takes off running as a last option. As a runner, he picks up first downs, and knows when to get down to preserve his health. He’s a white Charlie Ward, but finishes as third-team SEC because of the brilliant smiles of SEC poster boys Aaron Murray and Tyler Wilson. Dylan Thompson gets very few meaningful minutes and a few kneel downs, and Brendan Nosovitch gets to redshirt as God intended.
Worst Case – Connor Shaw freaks out. He looks like the wild-eyed kid that opened the season against East Carolina last year. He overthrows open receivers, fumbles more times than the acceptable number of zero, and looks lost against inferior competition. The offense can find no rhythm and sustain no drives, even with a powerful rushing attack. Dylan Thompson comes in and you realize all his offseason “progress” is just internet talk, and the revolving door begins to spin. Shaw, Thompson, Clifford, even Strickland. Talk of taking the redshirt off Nosovitch begins, and the QB spot is once again a thorn for the HBC.
The Running Backs
Best Case – Marcus Lattimore is pissed. Pissed that God tested him like this. Pissed that he had to work ten times harder to get back to where he was, so he worked ten more times harder to get better than that. Pissed at SEC defenses. Pissed at me. Pissed at you. And he runs like it. He powers over people and all of a sudden has that second gear that Matt Millen said he was missing against UGA last year. He is the second coming of Adrian Peterson, and he’s glorious. Kenny Miles is glad he came back, and spells #21 more than adequately. Shon Carson gives us a change-of-pace back we haven’t had since NOBODY back in THE YEAR THAT DIDN’T EXIST. Because we only have one ball Brandon Wilds and the uber-talented Mike Davis get to redshirt. By the end of the year the USC backfield is widely recognized as the best in the SEC, if not the nation.
Worst Case – I can’t come up with a worst case scenario involving Marcus Lattimore, it’s just not in me. So let’s just say he rushes for 1200 yards and 20 TD’s but gets no help from anyone else in the backfield. Miles is the pedestrian Miles he has been for much of his career, Carson doesn’t pan out, and Brandon Wilds is more the Wilds of Clemson instead of the Wilds of Tennessee. The Mike Davis redshirt is burned, but he simply doesn’t get many carries because #21 is so good.
The Wide Receivers
Best Cast – Ace Sanders steps up and becomes worthy of all-conference talk. He finishes in the top 5 in receptions in the SEC, and while he doesn’t have a ton of yardage he’s a first down machine. Bruce Ellington kills out of the slot. Dameire Byrd becomes the deep threat we all hoped he’d be last year, getting behind defenses with his blazing speed. Shaq Roland lives up to the hype, and like Alshon, becomes our jump ball/fade guy in the red zone. (Oh, and our Hail Mary guy too.) Other receivers like D.L. Moore and K.J. Brent are solid contributors when needed. With a powerful run game to compliment it, the passing game helps the Gamecock O become the most balanced in the SEC.
Worst Case – Ace Sanders continues to be Ace Sanders, solid but not a breakout performer. Ellington dreams of early playing time for Frank Martin. Byrd has stone hands and can’t be trusted, while Roland is lost once the lights come on and the proverbial bullets start flying. Moore catches eight passes on the season, and Brent is the second coming of Moore.
The Tight Ends
Best Case – Holy moly people. Cunningham, Anderson, Adams, Owens (for half the season), Rainey. Let’s just say Justice Cunningham (an excellent blocker who can catch the ball on occasion) and Buster Anderson (an above average blocker with excellent hands and moves) play the way they did last year. And let’s just say Jerell Adams is close to what we are hearing about in practice, which if you believe the legend is a cross between Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham and Tony Gonzalez. And let’s just say Owens comes back from his knee injury as a contributor and Rainey redshirts. I think that will do just fine.
Worst Case – Cunningham decides blocking is for the birds and he wants to catch more passes dammit. Anderson regresses to more resemble the lightly recruited tight end we didn’t expect anything out of last year. Adams is a myth, Owens doesn’t recover from his knee injury in time to contribute in 2012, and Rainey plays like a freshman.
The Offensive Line
Best Case – The corner is turned, and we finally have an upper level SEC line for our stable to run behind. T.J. Johnson anchors the line as a veteran multiple-year starter who knows how to handle the wars. A.J. Cann, Ronald Patrick and Mike Matulis build on their solid seasons from last year, and Brandon Shell becomes the left tackle we’ve always dreamed of. The second teamers provide depth, and Sean Elliott is hailed as a savior.
Worst Case – We’ve been down this road oh so many times, do I really have to spell it out?
Next up, Tbone gives us Best Case/Worst Case for the 2012 Gamecock defense.