A Top 10 finish for the Gamecocks in 2013 is being predicted by pundits:
4. South Carolina: The defense will feature the best defensive player in the country, DE Jadeveon Clowney. Clowney is the early favorite to be the No. 1 pick in the 2014 NFL draft after racking up 13 sacks and 21.5 tackles for loss as a sophomore. The former prized recruit will be joined on defense by other future pros such as DT Kelcy Quarles, CB Jimmy Legree and safety Brison Williams.
QB Connor Shaw might not have Marcus Lattimore in the backfield, but he’ll have a potentially lethal receiver corps to throw to, which will include junior Ace Sanders, sophomores Bruce Ellington and Damiere Byrd and freshman Shaq Roland.
Even without Lattimore, the Gamecocks have enough elite talent at key positions to compete for an SEC title.
7. South Carolina: The Gamecocks finished 11-2 for the second consecutive season, even after losing star tailback Marcus Lattimore to a season-ending leg injury for the second year in a row. Lattimore is leaving for the NFL draft, but the Gamecocks should bring back seven starters on offense, including quarterback Connor Shaw (who had foot surgery last week and will miss spring practice) and top receivers Ace Sanders and Bruce Ellington. USC will have to replace seven starters on defense, but star defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is coming back. The team will have to replace three starting linebackers and two starting defensive backs. The Gamecocks will play one of the country’s most demanding nonconference schedules in 2013, including home games against North Carolina and Clemson and a road game at UCF. They also will play SEC road games at Georgia, Arkansas, Tennessee and Missouri.
9. South Carolina: Best defensive player? Certainly. But Jadeveon Clowney also might be the best player in the nation. Period. The Gamecocks’ defensive end, who had 231/2 tackles for loss and 13 sacks as a sophomore, again will be giving SEC QBs fits. He’ll anchor a defense that boasts plenty of experience in the secondary.
All three starting LBs are gone, but the real concern is with the running game, where sophomore Mike Davis (275 yards on 52 carries) will be asked to shoulder the load. Luckily, the offensive line will be stout with four returning starters, and the QB tandem of Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson has shown it can deliver.