How The South Carolina Gamecocks Can Win The SEC East
This is the year for the South Carolina Gamecocks. They'll finally beat all of the bad luck they've had in the past and win the SEC East.
At least that's what many of the pundits are saying. But do the Gamecocks really have what it takes to win the SEC East? After all, they lost Connor Shaw and Jadeveon Clowney.
Let's break down South Carolina's offense, defense and their schedule and see what their chances are.
Shaw is gone, but Dylan Thompson takes over in Columbia for one season. He sat behind Shaw for so long, but has one season to show he can make it in the NFL.
Thompson has thrown for 1,427 yards and 14 touchdowns over his career. He's been a nice security blanket to have for head coach Steve Spurrier since Shaw found himself hurt on more than one occasion. Thompson's best season came two years ago when he threw for 1,027 yards and 10 touchdowns. He threw for 330 yards and three touchdowns against East Carolina early in 2012, and threw for 310 yards and three touchdowns against Clemson later that year.
In 2013, Thompson saw significant game action three times, throwing for 261 yards against Fiesta Bowl-champions Central Florida, and 222 yards against upstart Missouri.
Mike Davis returns to the backfield for the Gamecocks and is an All-SEC-type performer. He finished with 1,134 yards and 11 touchdowns. The fact is, he'll do even better this year.
Three upper classmen return to start for the Gamecocks at receiver, while the offensive line returns all but one starter.
Thompson will be the biggest question mark and his success could be the key to South Carolina's success.
Clowney is gone and the defensive line is the biggest question mark for the Gamecocks. Who do they have that can replace Clowney on the line? While it's true Clowney's junior season was sub-par compared to his sophomore season, the fact remains that he was still a force to be reckoned with.
The linebacking corps and secondary should be decent, but there's always room for improvement.
Overall, the defense is a big question mark because we don't know what the affect of not having Clowney will bring. Sure, there were 10 other players on the field, but he was still a beast that was the focal point for many offensive lines. Now that he's gone, how will South Carolina's defense adjust?
Things gets going right away for the Gamecocks with games at home against Texas A&M (Aug. 28) and Georgia (Sept. 13) in two of their first three games. Depending on how well the Gamecocks do in those two games, we'll know what the expectation is for them in the standings.
Aug. 28: vs. Texas A&M
Sept. 6: vs. East Carolina
Sept. 13: vs. Georgia
Sept. 20: at Vanderbilt
Sept. 27: vs. Missouri
Oct. 4: at Kentucky
Oct. 18: vs. Furman
Oct. 25: at Auburn
Nov. 1: vs. Tennessee
Nov. 15: at Florida
Nov. 22: vs. South Alabama
Nov. 29: at Clemson
It's a fun schedule for South Carolina, with the big games bookended at the beginning and end of the year -- with the exception of the Oct. 25 game at Auburn. It's not as favorable of a schedule as the Gamecocks would like, but many of the teams on their schedule have a few question marks as well.
Although a talented team, there are too many question marks when it comes to Thompson and the defense. If those question marks become null-and-void within the first few weeks of the season, then South Carolina will absolutely win the SEC East.
However, I don't see that happening and the Gamecocks will once again finish in second place.