The “Ole Ball Coach” may have his biggest assignment ahead of him in 2014.
After being competitive in the SEC East the past few seasons, Steve Spurrier is left with the daunting task of rebuilding a South Carolina offense around another quarterback and finding new defensive personnel to fills the shoes of Jadeveon Clowney and other key starters.
The good news is that all of the top SEC teams are in a rebuild of sorts and all are looking to replace their quarterback.
While other teams have to replace their key stars as well, the balance in the SEC may remain as even as it been in decades. That still does not help South Carolina and the Gamecocks’ rebuilding project.
Everyone in Columbia is more worried about Clowney and whether he will be the top pick in the NFL Draft. That bodes well for the Gamecocks, who right now are flying under the radar. But knowing Spurrier, he will have his team in the throes of the media circus soon enough.
Here are the five questions that need to be answered about this team in spring ball for 2014. Part of the information for this story was obtained through gogamecocks.com.
Who will start behind center?
The Connor Shaw era in Columbia is over. The man who replaced Stephen Garcia put his name on the map in the state capital and may find his way onto an NFL roster somewhere as a free agent.
Dylan Thompson is the obvious answer, but maybe not the right one. After a 2012 season that put him in position to compete for the starting job in 2013, Thompson threw 89 passes this season, all in a reserve role, completing 58.4 percent of them for 783 yards, with four touchdowns and three interceptions.
Redshirt freshman Brendan Nosovitch and freshman Connor Mitch each will have a chance to compete for the job in spring practice. Nosovitch rushed for 2,000 yards in his final two high school seasons, while Mitch is 6-foot-3 and threw for more than 12,000 yards in his high school career.
Will anyone replace Clowney?
It’s not just Clowney, it’s all about the mindset of the team on defense. Clowney was the instigator and the rest followed. Now, that transition must be found so the defensive unit can continue to be a leader in the SEC.
Gerald Dixon looks like he’ll be the best defensive end on the roster next season, but it will take a lot more than filling a starting role on the end of the line to replace Clowney.
The Gamecocks need a defender to emerge who requires opponents to do extra work during the week like Clowney did, and it’s not obvious right now who that might be. Linebacker Skai Moore could be headed for an All-SEC type season next year, and defensive end Darius English looks like he could be a force if he can add another 20 pounds.
Will the cornerbacks be better this year?
More importantly, where will this team find quality starters and depth? This season’s starters, Victor Hampton and Jimmy Legree, played their final games in the Capital One Bowl, and Rico McWilliams is the only cornerback left on the roster with experience worth mentioning.
Ronnie Martin and Ali Groves could compete at the spot, but South Carolina’s coaches will be recruiting cornerback as hard as any position on the field for the next month.
What does the schedule look like?
Typical SEC fashion the schedule is tough. The Gamecocks will open the season by hosting Texas A&M. The Gamecocks’ other SEC West opponent is Auburn, which this time last year would have seemed great.
As it stands, that could be a matchup against the defending national champion. The good news: division opponents Georgia, Missouri and Tennessee all come to Williams-Brice Stadium, where South Carolina has won 18 in a row. Ten wins is not out of the question.
How long will Spurrier continue?
As long as the desire is still there, Spurrier stays. He loves to coach, loves to motivate and the media loves him. He is perfect for the SEC. I see him coaching three more seasons.