SOUTH CAROLINA IS loaded for a second consecutive season. The Gamecocks possess more overall talent than any previous team in Steve Spurriers eight seasons. They have SEC-caliber players at every position, and enough depth across the board to deal with injuries that occur along the way.
This will be the best of Spurriers teams at USC.
That does not mean USC will match the school-record 11 victories of a season ago. It does not mean that the Gamecocks will win a second SEC East championship over a three-season period.
It is all about scheduling in college football. USC long suffered from competing in the nations most-challenging division, often taking lumps from national powers Florida, Georgia and Tennessee. Over the past two seasons, USC has benefitted from being in the SEC East, which fell on hard times with only the Gamecocks and Georgia as legitimate challengers for the league title.
The balance of power has shifted over the past couple of seasons to the SEC West, where defending national champion Alabama, LSU and Arkansas are considered national-title contenders. Only Mississippi in the West who knows about newcomer Texas A&M? is not considered an above-average team.
But the East appears to be on the way back with Florida, Tennessee and Vanderbilt expected to be much-improved over the past two seasons. That leaves Kentucky who knows about newcomer Missouri? as the bottom-feeder in the division.
There is no overlooking that USCs two opponents from the West Division are LSU (on the road) and Arkansas (at home), while East Division-favorite Georgia plays Mississippi (home) and Auburn (road). That scheduling represents a huge advantage for Georgia.
All that being said, the best way to figure USCs record this season is to break the schedule into segments. In East Carolina, UAB, Kentucky and Wofford, USC has four games it should win with ease.
The next group of games, against Vanderbilt, Missouri, Florida, Tennessee and Clemson, USC likely will be the favorite to win. Lets say the Gamecocks win four of those five games. That gives USC eight wins.
The remaining three games are against Georgia, LSU and Arkansas. USC likely will be the underdog in all three games. So, lets say USC wins one of those three. That leaves the Gamecocks with a 9-3 regular season.
USC will then defeat Michigan of the Big Ten Conference in the Gator Bowl for a second consecutive season of 10 or more wins.
In a strange kind of way, the manner in which USC plays out the season likely will cost talented running back Marcus Lattimore a shot at the Heisman Trophy as college footballs top player.
Lattimore will come back fine from his knee injury and will be at his best in the biggest games. He might be the top running back in the country by seasons end. But, unlike a season ago, when USC struggled in wins over teams it should have handled easily East Carolina, Navy, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State, Florida, Tennessee and The Citadel the Gamecocks will blow out teams it should.
That means the load will be lighter on Lattimore. There will be games when he can and should sit out the second half. As a result, Lattimores rushing totals for the season will not be as gaudy as others around the country. If you ask Lattimore, he will be OK with that scenario because he knows it is a benefit to him and the team over the long haul.
In that sense, Lattimores season will be representative of USCs. He will be a better ball carrier than he was the past two seasons, but will fall short statistically of his freshman season, when he rushed for 1,197 yards.
By the same token, USC will be a much better team than it was in either of the past two seasons. But that does not mean USC will win the SEC East or notch 11 victories.
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