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.)
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 *Charlotte, Bank of America Stadium*
9/12 – Kentucky
9/19 – at Georgia (L)
9/26 – Central Florida
10/3 – at Missouri (L)
10/10 – LSU (L)
10/17 – Vanderbilt
10/24 – BYE
10/31 – at Texas A&M (L)
11/7 – at Tennessee
11/14 – Florida
11/21 – The Citadel
11/28 – Clemson
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
(3) Coin Toss
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.