2015 South Carolina Gamecock season preview

Who else thought we’d be coming off a 7-6 season after three consecutive 11-2 records? I’ll wait…

No one? Ok, me either. Prior to the start of 2014 campaign, all Gamecock fans and others around the country believed that this was the year that Steve Spurrier and the Gamecocks would make their way back to Atlanta for only the second time in school history. Short answer: No. We saw a young defense get torched almost every SEC weekend. We also saw a senior QB break the school record for most yards thrown in a single season. Last but not least, we saw the resurgence of the question, “How long will Steve Spurrier remain at South Carolina?”

The off-season brought in new Hoke; and no, that is not a typo. Due to the atrocious defense allowing 441 ypg, which ranked second to last in the SEC, Spurrier brought in another defensive coordinator in his old friend, Jon Hoke. Hoke comes for the NFL’s Chicago Bears and looks to improve the Gamecock defense along side his colleague, Lorenzo Ward. Good news fans, the scheme problem will be fixed; we hope. Ward and Hoke have come to terms and will be reimplementing the 4-3. So goodbye, 3-4/4-2-5.

The defensive line was a main target in recruiting, and the Gamecocks got their men. The biggest pick-up takes form in 6-3, 266 lb, JUCO transfer, Marquavius Lewis. The RS Junior spent two years at Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College where he was named the Jayhawk Conference Defensive Player of the Year and earned first team-all-conference honors (gamecocksonline.com). Lewis is expected to start at DE. Other pick-ups include DT Ulric Jones, DE/DT Dante Sawyer, and DE Shameik Blackshear. These players look to make an immediate impact this season.

With Dylan Thompson gone, that means there will be a new QB under center. Most fans assume that RS Sophomore, Connor Mitch will start on Sept. 3 against UNC. I’m assuming that as well. Mitch has the most experience of all other QB’s with 6 total passes against, respectively, Furman and South Alabama. While that doesn’t seem to promising for the Gamecock faithful, here are some stats from Mitch’s Senior year at Wakefield High School (N.C.)

4,661 yards

63 TD’s

62% completion of all passes

Feel better now? Mitch finished his career at Wakefield with 12,078 yards, completing 807/1,384 attempts, and 153 touchdowns. Truth be told, we do not know how Mitch will handle pressure, but the starting job is his to lose. Mitch will be looking over his shoulder at true Freshman, Lorenzo Nunez. Nunez, a 4-star, dual-threat QB out of Harrison High School (Kennesaw, Ga) will battle for playing time. Don’t expect Spurrier to give the frosh the starting nod come Sept. 3rd.

With all the uncertainities and what-if’s for 2015 Gamecocks, here are my predictions for each game.

9/3 – North Carolina (W) *Charlotte, Bank of America Stadium*

9/12 – Kentucky (W)

9/19 – at Georgia (L)

9/26 – Central Florida (W)

10/3 – at Missouri (L)

10/10 – LSU (L)

10/17 – Vanderbilt (W)

10/24 – BYE

10/31 – at Texas A&M (L)

11/7 – at Tennessee (W)

11/14 – Florida (W)

11/21 – The Citadel (W)

11/28 – Clemson (W)

I predict that the Gamecocks will go 8-4 in the regular season. Here are the wins broken into three categories: (1) No Doubters, (2) Close Wins, and (3) Coin Toss

(1) No Doubters

North Carolina, Vanderbilt, Central Florida, The Citadel

(2) Close Wins

Kentucky, Florida

(3) Coin Toss 

Tennessee, Clemson

With the exception of two games, the four losses were easy to call. The two difficult games that I have the Gamecocks losing were against Georgia and Missouri. Why do they lose to their SEC-East foes? Simple; away from W-B. Of course, I never like losing to Georgia, and while they are in the midst of a QB battle like many other teams, they have Nick Chubb. This game is always a knockdown, drag out game with the W usually going to the home team.

Yes, the Gamecocks beat Missouri in the OTHER Columbia two years ago. Erasing a 17-point deficit to defeat the No.5 ranked Tigers, 27-24 in 2OT. The Tigers got one back from Spurrier’s clad the next year, coming back in the last eight minutes to defeat Carolina, 21-20. Unfortunately, Mizzou has all the momentum in the series. They have won the East twice since they’ve been in the SEC, Matty Mauk is returning at QB, and their defense improves every year.

Now the losses. LSU is just one of those teams that the Gamecocks cannot beat. However, if the Gamecocks can stop stud-running back Leonard Fournette, then we will have a battle in Columbia. As far as the TAMU contest, we can just chalk this one up to bad calls by the refs. Since the Gamecocks have a bye week before their trip to College Station, maybe, just maybe, they will be prepared for the Aggies.

New players, new coaches, and new schemes will make this season either fun to watch or one to forget. Uncertainty surrounds the Gamecocks this offseason and time will only tell if Spurrier contemplates retiring from the game of football. South Carolina kicks-off the year at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte against the North Carolina Tar Heels. Game time is set for 6:00 p.m. ET on ESPN.

#ForeverToThee

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Crazy Love: All or Nothing

victoriainfinger.com

imgresCrazy love.

When I think of “crazy love”, I think of unrelenting, passionate and overwhelming love.  I think of the way I crave chocolate during finals week, or the way my dog reacts to an untouched rawhide bone.  When I think of love, I think of E.E. Cummings’ last stanza of “somewhere i have travelled, and gladly beyond”:

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens; only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands

Crazy love is grand.  We connect love to our senses: the smell of roses, the feel of sunshine, the glint in his eyes when you ask, “How do I look?”.  Beautiful, right?

Now what if I told you there is someone who loves you beyond your senses?  What if I told you there is someone whose love…

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The Streak – Carolina vs. Clemson

Where were we three weeks ago? South Carolina had just come off another disappointing loss. A loss that had the Gamecocks, once again, up by two scores late in the game. Rumors began circulating about Steve Spurrier’s retirement and if the Gamecocks would even make it to a bowl. Now, the Gamecocks have two consecutive wins over Florida and South Alabama; 26-20 (OT) and 37-12, respectively. Will Muschamp has been dismissed as Florida’s head coach and Spurrier is back to his ole antics of getting under Clemson head coach, Dabo Swinney’s skin. Yes, it’s rivalry week.

The 6-5 South Carolina Gamecocks and the (23) 8-3 Clemson Tigers will renew the annual Palmetto State showdown this Saturday, November 29, at “high noon” inn Clemson. (The rivalry has officially been named, “The Palmetto Bowl.”)

A few questions come up about Saturday’s contest: A big one is Clemson’s QB situation. Freshman sensation Deshaun Watson suffered an LCL sprain against Georgia Tech and no-one has felt it more than the Clemson offense. After Watson’s injury, the Tiger offense has not executed. Former starter Cole Stoudt threw two pick-six’s and the Tigers failed to score a TD, losing to the Yellow Jackets, 28-6. Watson did not play against Georgia State, and although the Tigers won 28-0, the Tigers did not score in the 2nd half of that game. As of November 27th, Watson is listed as day-to-day. If he starts against South Carolina, he will more than likely be limited. Earlier in his weekly press conference, Swinney said that Watson is about 80% and has been practicing this week in a yellow jersey (non-contact). The fact of the matter is, if Watson does play, this Clemson offense is a different monster. If Cole Stoudt is called upon, the Tigers might struggle. The Tigers three loses against Georgia, Florida State and Georgia Tech have all come in games that Stoudt has started and played majority, if not the entire way. The decision is expected to be made around kickoff.

Another question that comes up is if the streak will continue. Gamecock fans and Steve Spurrier have made it clear that the Gamecocks have won five in a row against their rivals from the upstate. The biggest stat in those games has been points allowed by the Carolina defense; 17. The Tigers high-powered offense, under Chad Morris, has only scored 17 points in the last five in the series. The reasoning being is the stingy Carolina defense that has produced multiple NFL talent (Stephon Gilmore, Darian Stewart, Jadeveon Clowney, DJ Swearinger, etc.) Clemson All-Americans like Tajh Boyd, Sammy Dropk…Watkins, Deandre “Nuke” Hopkins and more, have been great during the regular season in those years, but have been shutdown by South Carolina’s defense.

The Gamecocks do not have any big-name talent on defense; sorry Brison Williams. They have struggled majority of the year, with the exception of the Florida and South Alabama games, which really does not say much due to the level of offense they have faced, but don’t tell the Carolina defense that. There’s always extra motivation in rivalry games and the motivation is evident. Senior DT J.T. Surratt is confident, but humble. “I told them, anything you thought about this team, you can forget it. Anybody that loses to somebody five times in a row is definitely going to be prepared, or going to try to do something different.” The Gamecocks secondary is young, but they’ve stepped up the past two weeks and they look to improve on that performance.

This rivalry has been fun the past few years, at least for South Carolina fans. Gamecock QB Dylan Thompson will return to Death Valley in hopes of repeating his 2012 performance. Clemson hopes to repeat, well, their 2008 performance; a game with then-interim head coach Dabo Swinney and the Tigers winning, 31-14. The game should be exciting and full of offense. The Tigers bring a stout defense, ranking number 1 in the nation. However, the Gamecocks record-setting offense will be the toughest Clemson has faced, with respect to Georgia and Florida State. Like other games, this one will be a high-scoring affair.

My prediction: Gamecocks extend their streak to 6 consecutive games over the Tigers.

Final score: Gamecocks – 31, Clemson – 24

History Repeats, but it’s Florida Week

Another week, another two-touchdown lead that the Gamecocks squandered. Frankly, it’s getting a bit frustrating; but that’s Gamecock Football. The Cardiac Cocks, so named after the South Carolina baseball team, have given their share of heart palpitations to the Gamecock faithful in Williams-Brice throughout the season. And it happened again against the Tennessee Volunteers.

The Gamecocks were doing well. The defense were bending but haven’t broke. They contained the new signal caller in Joshua Dobbs and put up an impressive night on offense. Junior RB, Brandon Wilds just ripped off a long TD run and the Gamecocks began to feel “happy” (insert Pharrell Williams voice here). You figure with just under 3 minutes left in the game that it was over. I thought so, too. It had been cold the entire game; from kick-off through 3 and 3/4 quarters, and I walked out of Williams-Brice  believing that there was no way the Vols would mount a comeback like that. They say that you should leave history in the past, but as we all know, history is doomed to repeat itself; and it did.

The Vols took over the rest of the game and bent that vulnerable Gamecock defense tying it at the end of regulation, 42-42. Sitting in the parking lot listening to PxP announcers Todd Ellis and Tommy Suggs, I was in shock. OT was ahead and the last time the Gamecocks were in a OT game…vs. Tennessee. What happened: lost by 3. The Gamecocks chose defense after winning the toss, which is the common, smart move by most teams. The defense held and only allowed a FG. In the back of my head I thought, “We’ll be fine. We’ve set the record for most yards in a game in school history and we have an excellent FG kicker in Elliot Fry. We’re going to pull this out!”

The Gamecocks suffered back-to-back sacks on the first two plays from scrimmage, putting them in a deep hole and once again, adversity was there; staring the Gamecock coaches, players and fans in the face. Next thing I know, there was FG attempt from Elliot Fry; “It’ll go in…it always goes in. We got this.” The hold was mediocre and the kick completely missed the bright, yellow field goal posts. Another lead, gone. Another could’ve, should’ve won, gone. The Gamecocks were #BackInBlack for majority of the game, but not for the final 3 minutes. The record now stood at 4-5 on the season and a series of speculation centered around the football program. Was this the end of all our success? Would Spurrier retire? But most importantly, would the Gamecocks make it to a bowl game?

Fast forward to today, November 12th. A Bye-Week and short press conferences later, the Gamecocks will travel to Gainesville, Florida to take on the up-start Gators. Florida had just beaten, and I mean BEAT, the SEC-East leading Georgia Bulldogs, 38-20 and put together a two-touchdown win against Vanderbilt. The Gators turned to QB Treon Harris to lead the struggling offense, but it isn’t struggling anymore. Now with a 5-3 record, Will Muschamp may have saved his job, at least till the end of the year. In Muschamp’s weekly presser, he alluded to the team’s success, but knows that they have their hands full against the highly-powered offense of the Gamecocks who are averaging 35.9 ppg and rank 19th in the country in passing yards per game with 294.6.

The Gamecocks are 1-13 against the Gators in The Swamp with their only win coming in 2010, led by freshman tailback Marcus Lattimore; who recently retired from the NFL after two-seasons on the PUP list. In that game, the sensational tailback rushed for 212 yards on 40 attempts and tallying 3 scores. That night, the Gamecocks controlled the clock and pounded the Gators into submission. Spurrier looks to do much of the same against the Gators at “high-noon” (so says the HBC) on Saturday. Yes, the Gamecocks have a plethora of tailbacks to use, but they cannot match the productivity of #21. Mike Davis has not been the same after a number of injuries ending the 2013 season. Brandon Wilds is a tough, downhill, physical runner, but he doesn’t get enough carries. Shon Carson, well, has been wishy-washy to say the least and I’m sure David Williams is just waiting for his turn. With Dylan Thompson throwing all-over the field, torching up SEC defenses, and Mr. Do-It-All Pharoh Cooper, why wouldn’t you use the “Fun N’ Gun?” It seems to me like the Gamecocks will look to control the clock, but I wouldn’t be shocked if the Gamecocks air it out Saturday afternoon in The Swamp against an average Gator defense.

The line is set at 6.5 in favor of the Gators. The last time the Gators and Gamecocks played in Gainesville, the Gators capitalized off early turnovers made by the Gamecocks, winning convincingly, 33-11. Crazy things happen down in Florida when Steve Spurrier comes to town and it should be no different.

My prediction: Gamecocks – 42 Gators – 38.

If Carolina wins, they will be in prime position to make it to a bowl game with the South Alabama Jaguars coming into Columbia the following week.

If the Gators win, the Gamecocks more than likely, will not be going bowling and will be sitting back wondering if changes need to be made; not only on the field, but in the press box as well.

The state of Gamecock Football

As the ball traveled through the air on Saturday night in Jordan-Hare Stadium, I could only hope that one of the Gamecock receivers would come down with it and make Dylan Thompson look like a hero. The pass was tipped and caught…by an Auburn defender. Game over. Final score: #5 Auburn – 42, South Carolina – 35.

Let’s be honest, I did not expect the Gamecocks to put up a fight. At the beginning of the week the spread was 13; but later grew to 19.5 in favor of Auburn. Seemed accurate considering what the Gamecocks have endured over the course of the season. The offense thus far had looked slightly above average, but the defense had looked horrendous. The Gamecocks made a statement by striking first and looked to right the ship and do what has never been done before; win over a top-5 team on the road and beat the Auburn Tigers for the first time since entering the SEC.

Once the defense took over, I held my breath. Knowing what head coach Gus Malzahn has implemented into an almost unstoppable offensive powerhouse, it was going to be a long, long game. While I was worried about the defense, I was more worried about the offense and if they could keep-up. They did. They went for it on fourth down seven times the entire game, and all but one attempt worked. I was impressed to say the least.

The defense stepped up and shut down Auburn…on the first drive. After that, the Tigers found the end zone six consecutive times. The Tigers could not be stopped, and it was clear that the Gamecock defense is in more of a sense of desperation than I thought. This defense is young, I get that, but even young teams find their way over halfway through the season; this one has not. Is it the scheme change? Is it the coaching? Or is it just the personnel? I do not have the answer for that, but the defense can only get better, right?

The game did not end the way the Gamecock nation had hoped; the offense left potentially 21 points on the field. They did not capitalize off of an Auburn turnover and failed to take advantage of the rare onside kick.

Takeaways:

 

The good: Steve Spurrier is still an offensive genius and can hang with anyone in the SEC; and the offense can execute.

The bad: The defense still cannot get pressure on the quarterback, cannot tackle well, and does not have any leaders.

The confusing: On Dylan Thompson’s Hail Mary attempt, the Tigers had two No. 1’s on the field. By rule, that is a 5-yard penalty and a replay of down. Yes, the Gamecocks should’ve gotten a re-dot and the SEC has confirmed this. However, we as a fan base should not be gripping about the missed call, as some did go in our favor throughout the game. We should worried about the points we left out on that field.

 

 

This week: The Tennessee Volunteers (3-5; 0-4 SEC) come into Williams-Brice Stadium. The Volunteers are coming off of a 14 point road loss to Alabama. QB Justin Worley did not play due to a shoulder injury, so back-up Joshua Dobbs took the reins of the Volunteer offense. Dobbs finished with 19/32, 192 yards, 2 TD’s and 1 INT. The Volunteers showed some resiliency after being down to the Crimson Tide, 20-0 at the end of the first quarter. Although they did not complete what would’ve been one of the best wins under coach Butch Jones, Tennessee has some confidence heading to Saturday’s game with the Gamecocks.

The game features two lower-tier teams in the SEC-East, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be a low-scoring affair. The orange clad love to hate Spurrier. The Gamecocks are looking to avenge their last second, 23-21 loss in Knoxville. Spurrier arguably called one of his worst games of his career, but it won’t happen again.

If you’re looking for something fun and surprising this Halloween weekend here it is: #BackInBlack. I’m not referring to the AC/DC hit, although that is an awesome song, that is the hashtag that’s going around on Twitter from the Gamecock Equipment account, to starting RB Mike Davis. The Gamecocks will be wearing black jerseys and black pants with the white helmets on Saturday. The last time the Gamecocks wore anything but Garnet jerseys at home was back in 2011 against Auburn, and donned all-black against Florida in 2009.

“Maybe it’ll put a little inspiration in our guys, who knows,” Spurrier said.

The line as of right now, 7; in favor of South Carolina.

 

First Blog Post – College Football Playoff: Assessment and Implications

The college football world has been rocked to say the least.

With the BCS now in retirement, and no it will not pull a Brett Favre and come out of retirement, the College Football Playoff will now determine the “rightful” National Champion by using a 4-team playoff system.

A selection committee made up of different analysts, coaches, and even former political figures (i.e. Condoleezza Rice) will evaluate the teams and seed them 1-4.

The match-ups will pair the No. 1 and No. 4 seeds, and the No. 2 and 3 seeds. The No. 1 and No. 4 seeds will play in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, while the No. 2 vs. No. 3 game will take place at the Sugar Bowl in Atlanta, Georgia. The two winners of those games will play for the 2014 National Championship at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

A little over half-way through the 2014 season, there have been a plethora of surprise teams. The top 5, as ranked by the AP Poll as of 10/22/2014 are as follows:

1. Mississippi State

2. Florida State

3. Ole Miss

4. Alabama

5. Auburn

First and foremost, there are four, yes four teams from the SEC’s West division in the running for the four seeds. The one, or two in this case, that surprises me the most: Mississippi State and Ole Miss.

(1) Mississippi State has thoroughly dominated every game they have played in; including wins vs. then No. 6 Texas A&M (48-31), previously No. 2 Auburn (38-23) and then No. 8 LSU in Tiger stadium (34-29). Dak Presscott has been nothing short of amazing; and he deserves it. Dan Mullen knew this kid was going to be a special when he recruited him and he has not disappointed. While the offense has been great, the defense has been just as good, allowing a 19th best, 20 ppg. The bulldogs have to travel to Tuscaloosa on Nov. 15 with a date with Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide. Winning at Bryant-Denny is no small feat. The Egg bowl on Nov. 29 will be a tall-task as well when the bulldogs travel to Ole Miss. Should the bulldogs win out, their eyes will only enlarge upon a National Championship.

(3) Ole Miss has been equally as efficient with signature wins over then top-ranked Alabama (23-17), and a win in College Station against then No. 14 Texas A&M (35-20). The Rebels (or black bears) has shown complete dominance on the defensive side of the ball with a No. 1 overall ranking allowing an average of 10.6 ppg. Let’s not forget to mention that Bo Wallace and co. have scored an average 35.4 ppg. While Ole Miss has only played, arguably, two tough games, the road will get tougher as it always does in the latter part of the season. They travel to LSU this weekend (Oct. 25), but are at home when the Auburn Tigers come into town. A trap game will be against Arkansas. It is in Fayetteville and will be played the weekend before the Egg Bowl. For Ole Miss, it comes down to precision. The defense will flex it muscles as it has done in the previous games, but the offense has to remain consistent.

Now on to the other remaining teams:

(2) Florida State is back again and looking to defend their 2013 National Championship. The Seminoles have come off of a win against previously No. 5 Notre Dame; which was impacted on a controversial pass-interference call that allowed FSU to win the game (31-27). Other than that, the Seminoles have not played anyone worth mentioning, except for maybe Clemson, that argument is for another day. However, recent off-the-field issues from 2013 Heisman trophy winner, Jameis Winston, has seemed to put a damper on the year FSU is having. The remainder of the schedule looks winnable by all accounts: at Louisville, home vs. UVA, at Miami, home for Boston College, and home vs. Florida. The seminole fan base has roared with disapproval as they are ranked behind Mississippi State, but honestly, it makes sense. Until, or if the bulldogs lose, FSU will remain number 2.

(4) Alabama is in a state of “panic” as so noted by the Alabama faithful and Head Coach, Nick Saban. The early stumble to Ole Miss seemed to affect the Tide as they narrowly escaped Arkansas with a 14-13 win. However, the next week, the Tide put a shellacking on then No. 21 Texas A&M, 59-0. Doesn’t seem to me as the word panic is correct, at least not judging by last week’s performance. The Tide have dates with a mediocre LSU in Tiger Stadium on Nov. 8 and the annual Iron Bowl with Auburn in Tuscaloosa. If the Tide win those two games, there is no doubt they will finish in top 4 and earn a spot in the College Football Playoff. Don’t tell Nick Saban to calm down, and that everything will be “ok” because for him, if it’s not perfect, then it’s not right.

(5) Auburn is not out of it yet. Their only loss came to No. 1 ranked Mississippi State on the road. The Tigers, led by Nick Marshall and Sammie Coates, seem to have one word on their mind: finish. Auburn has a tough test on Nov. 8 as they travel to Oxford to take on the Rebels. If the tigers want to win, they will need to slow down the production of Bo Wallace and come up with the perfect game plan against a stout Rebel defense. They get Texas A&M at home the next week, then travel to Athens to face No. 9 Georgia. Let’s also remember, they do travel to Tuscaloosa to end the regular season. The Tigers have all the makings of getting into the playoff picture, but they need to play their best football of the season within the next few weeks to have a shot.

At this point of the season, everyone wants to see the games that come down to the wire. The heroic performances, the Heisman-worthy numbers, and no-controversial calls. One can only dream, right? Don’t worry fans; you will get those games. This is going to be an exciting finish!

Let’s sit back, try to relax (even though we all know that’s easier said than done), and enjoy the weeks leading up to the selection of the inaugural college football playoff.