First Practice: March 13
Spring Game: April 14
South Carolina had arguably the quietest 11-win season in the country last year, and the Gamecocks are bringing back a solid core from the 2011 team.
A couple of early defections have left some glaring holes, though, so finding the next men up to fill those spots will be on the top of Steve Spurrier's agenda this spring. Otherwise, the Ol' Ball Coach will be concentrating on building a little depth in preparation for a run at the top of the new look SEC.
Stability Factor (1 = chaos; 5 = rock solid): 3.5
Ellis Johnson molded the South Carolina D into one of the best in the country last year. Southern Miss took notice and snatched Johnson away to replace Larry Fedora. Spurrier, in turn, elevated defensive backs coach Lorenzo Ward to the coordinator position. The move helped ensure continuity within the staff, the trade-off being that Ward has never run his own show before on the FBS level.
Also, we can't ignore that Spurrier's no spring chicken. That has to at least kinda linger in the backs' of players' minds, no?
Under the Microscope: Ward
In hiring Ward to run the D, Spurrier gave the direction of the defense a big thumbs-up. Clearly, Ward had the backing of South Carolina's players, too.
While the Gamecocks secondary showed major improvement under Ward, coordinating the whole D is a horse of a different color. And with Ward promising a more aggressive mentality on the South Cackalack defense, is he fixing something that isn't broken?
Locked and Loaded: Running Backs
When stud runner Marcus Lattimore went down last season with an ACL injury, Brandon Wilds more than picked up the slack. The freshman went over 100 yards three times in the four games immediately following the loss of Lattimore. While Wilds' performance was promising, he was only called into service because Kenny Miles, the true back-up, had been hurt earlier in the season. Once healthy, Miles got the starting nod and played a key role in wins against Clemson and Nebraska.
They might not be the healthiest bunch, but the backfield is ready to rock.
Jockeying for Position: Wide Receivers
South Carolina's passing game never really clicked in 2011, and the 'Cocks lost their leading receiver, Alshon Jeffrey, to the NFL. The surprising news that Bruce Ellington intends to concentrate exclusively on basketball signifies yet another hit to an already thin group of pass catchers.
With two of the squad's top three receivers from a year ago now gone, the competition this spring to join Ace Sanders in the starting lineup at wideout should be fierce.
Name to Know: Victor Hampton
South Carolina is looking for new stars in its secondary. The departure of Stephon Gilmore leaves a particularly large void at cornerback. Hampton, who will be a sophomore in 2012, should lock down one of those spots this spring. Even though he's short on experience, Hampton did see some action as a freshman and could turn out to be a strong cover man in his own right.
Spring will be a success if...: Connor Shaw and his receivers get comfy
The OBC's notoriously short temper when it comes to QBs hasn't really applied in Shaw's case. Following the Stephen Garcia era, Spurrier probably just likes the idea of not waking up in a cold sweat at 2 a.m. and wondering what his QB is up to.
Shaw grew up in '11 while leading the USC of the East to a 7-1 record as a starter. Now, however, he has to taken on a greater leadership role and develop a rapport with a whole mess of receivers who have yet to establish themselves.
If the junior QB and his wideouts can build some chemistry between now and the end of spring ball, it should go a long way towards priming the 'Cocks to make a run at the SEC roost in the fall.