The Time Is Now For South Carolina


Published: Monday, July 25, 2011 at 12:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, July 24, 2011 at 11:59 p.m.

If there ever was a time for South Carolina to win a Southeastern Conference football title, the time is now.

Steve Spurrier enters his seventh year at South Carolina, and the Ol' Ball Coach finally has some reasons to carry a preseason swagger again.

South Carolina returns seven players on offense — including quarterback Stephen Garcia, if he can stay out of trouble — and has the best running back in the SEC. Marcus Lattimore (1,197 rushing yards, 17 score as a freshman last year) might be even better as a sophomore if the offensive line can hold up.

The team returns six players on defense, including All-SEC defensive end Devin Taylor. And look for freshman Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina's Mr. Football, to be a force on the other end.

"We feel like we've probably assembled the best group of players we've had in the seven years now that I've been there," Spurrier said at SEC Media Days last week.

Talent can take you a long way, and so can confidence.

South Carolina has both after posting nine wins in a 2010 campaign that saw the Gamecocks beat Georgia, Florida and Alabama. Winning the East and making a trip to the SEC championship game probably doesn't hurt either.

"We're more experienced and more confident. Going into this season, we're more together and just one," wide receiver Alshon Jeffery said. "This year we are more prepared."

Expectations in South Carolina are uncharacteristically high, and it's no joke this season. The team is a popular pick to win the East. And why not?

Aside from Georgia, the East doesn't have a team with a roster of players who can hold a candle to South Carolina talent-wise. I have a feeling Tennessee is doing the right things in its rebuilding project, but the Vols won't be a contender until a while longer down the road.

Florida should give Spurrier a few fits this season. But the Gators have too many question marks, especially John Brantley, who didn't exactly wow people with his spring game performance in a system in which he's supposed to excel. Plus, the Gamecocks have the luxury of playing at home against Will Muschamp's squad.

The division is South Carolina's for the taking, and the only roadblock standing in its way might be itself.

"I just hope we stay focused throughout the whole run," defensive tackle Travian Robertson said.

If they do, maybe just maybe, the school will get to enjoy the first conference football title since it won the ACC in 1969. Now that's a long wait.

Seeing Spurrier coach in a bowl game that matters would be cool, too.

"Our program, really I believe, is heading in the right direction," he said.

[ Tom Zebold can be reached at tom.zebold@theledger.com or at 863-802-7553. ]

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