College Football Saturday: South Carolina & West Virginia
The Notebook has a college football Saturday, with a look at South Carolina and West Virginia…
CAN SOUTH CAROLINA MAKE ANOTHER RUN?
Last year South Carolina reached the greatest heights the program had seen since the glory days of George Rogers and his 1980 Heisman Trophy campaign. The Gamecocks won the SEC East, including a dismantling of Florida that sewed up the division title and sent them to Atlanta for the conference championship game for the first time ever. Even though they lost badly to Auburn and suffered a frustrating bowl loss to Florida State at the same venue, it was a breakthrough year for a program long good enough to be competitive, but not good enough to win a title of any kind. Expectations are high coming into this year. But is this is a reaction to last season or is the optimism based on what’s coming back? I lean to the former.
South Carolina is going to have to break in a lot of young players up front, including two freshman on the defensive line and another the offensive front. They’re inexperienced at free safety, another spot where veteran savvy can make a big difference. So while the skill position talent is really good—not only is stud sophomore running back Marcus Lattimore back in the fold, but so is explosive receiver Alshon Jeffrey and senior quarterback Stephen Garcia—all that glitters is not gold, and I think the Gamecocks are going to have trouble controlling the line of scrimmage.
Steve Spurrier’s defense is strong at linebacker and apart from the free safety spot, looks to be good in the secondary, with the potential to control the corners and bring up a strong safety to help the linebackers stop the run. The risk they run is that teams will find a way to establish the ground game against the young front and then go over the top deep for a big play.
Whatever we can expect of South Carolina this year, we’ll get a read on the quickly. The opening games are East Carolina at a neutral site, at Georgia and a home date with Navy. If the Gamecocks are poised for another strong year, they should win all three of those games. But all three are good enough to take down Spurrier’s team if the problems I outlined here are going to persist.
TALENT & TURMOIL IN WEST VIRGINIA
It was a crazy offseason in Morgantown, as West Virginia first brought in coveted Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen to run their offense and be the coach-in-waiting. With discontent rising under coach Bill Stewart, the move was rightly seen as a preparation for the latter’s firing. It was an untenable situation and Stewart forced the school’s hand, as rumors traced to his camp were leaked regarding Holgorsen’s nightlife habits. In the end, WVU got what it wanted and Stewart left and the new man in town was elevated to head coach. In the end it’s best for all concerned—Stewart wasn’t going to succeed in a program that clearly didn’t want him, and Holgorsen will have a real chance to compete with what promises to be a very talented Mountaineer team.
West Virginia has a returning quarterback in junior Geno Smith and a veteran offensive line that returns four starters and is anchored by left tackle Don Barclay. Smith is an effective runner and passer and a solid front five gives him the chance to succeed. The line play also gives a chance for new talent to emerge at running back. In a conference that generally lacks really good defenses, this is more than enough for Holgorsen—who engineered the high-powered Okie State attack with Brandon Weeden—to get points up on the board.
Defensively there are some concerns. The Mountaineers will be strong up front, but in a 3-4 defense that isn’t as vital as being good at linebacker. West Virginia has a lot of rebuilding to do in its back eight, where only two starters return. But, as mentioned before, the Big East doesn’t have tremendous defenses as a rule and WVA has what it takes to win shootouts in a league that increasingly resembles Conference USA more than the BCS power conferences that it’s grouped with in terms of automatic major bowl bids.
A target game in September to look at is the September 17 trip to Maryland. The two games prior are tune-ups. The one right after is LSU, a game that even at home WVA is overmatched on. But the game with the Terps will give a good read on how much we can expect from the Mountaineers in this season filled with talent and turmoil.
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