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Experts: Defense good. Offense huh?

So you've read every preseason college football magazine, perused predictions, ogled opinions, studied statistics. All to answer the question: How will USC fare in 2008?

Here at GoGamecocks The Magazine, we don’t gather reams of research compiled by nameless or unknown “experts.” We go straight to the top – no, not Steve Spurrier, who probably reads those same magazines – but to two of the biggest of big-time analysts: Tony Barnhart, SEC/ACC reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and CBS, and author of the classic “Southern Fried Football,” updated for release in August (with new memorials to two late sports-information legends, USC’s Tom Price and Clemson’s Bob Bradley); and Ivan Maisel of, former Sports Illustrated writer and author of “The Maisel Report,” his new book on the overrated and underrated of college football.

OK, guys: How about those Gamecocks?

“South Carolina isn’t an easy team to pigeonhole,” Maisel says. “The questions aren’t on defense; it’ll be interesting to see how they fit into what (new coordinator) Ellis Johnson wants to do. But like everyone else, I don’t know what to make of the offense.”

Barnhart also cuts to the chase.

“I love the defense,” he said. “With (linebacker) Jasper Brinkley and the other guys (Nathan Pepper, Captain Munnerlyn) coming back, I think they’re going to be in every game they play.

“Now you turn to the offense. I’m still concerned about the line, wish they’d played better (in 2007). And the quarterbacks have been inconsistent. But I love (receiver) Kenny McKinley; I’m anxious to see how many different ways Steve tries to get the ball in his hands.”

None of that qualifies as news for USC. Defense good, offense huh? Can Tommy Beecher become a Spurrier-style QB? Will Stephen Garcia shed his off-field past and take control? Who runs the ball? Who blocks?

Questions . . . and a few givens: “If I’ve learned anything,” Maisel said, “it’s why would anyone try to pick who Steve will play at quarterback?”

Still, our analysts say the Gamecocks should be better in 08, perhaps very good – if . . . Maisel says the “if” is injuries and depth, “crucial given what happened last year.”

Barnhart says it’s the schedule – not so much November’s “Orange Crush” as September’s lineup.

“They can beat N.C. State, but that’s not an easy game,” he said. “Vandy’s not easy (in Nashville), Georgia . . .

“They need to hang in there early. (But) I fully expect them to give Georgia all it can handle in Columbia.”

Barnhart laughed.

“It’ll be an interesting year,” he said.

Huh. We needed all this high-powered talent to tell us THAT?

Bob Gillespie