Every once in a while, I take an opportunity to turn my attention toward my favorite team and participate in the Gamecocks Blogger Roundtable with Garnet And Black Attack -- who hosts this month's edition -- the Post and Courier's Travis Haney, Leftover Hot Dog and Gamecock Anthem. Here we go:
1. With Florida reeling and the Gamecocks fresh off a stunning upset of top-ranked Alabama, is Carolina now the favorite to win the East?
There is no favorite in the East. Before the Kentucky game, I suppose you could have made an argument that South Carolina was the favorite. But even that would have been dicey for one reason: November. The last year South Carolina had a winning record in November was in 2005, and that was in part because the Gamecocks only had three games in the final month of the season. So forgive me if I'm waiting until at least a bit closer to Thanksgiving to put South Carolina as the one in the driver's seat.
But in the "new" East, after the South Carolina-Kentucky and Mississippi State-Florida upsets, it's a bit more difficult to figure. You could have multiple teams go through a series of tiebreakers ultimately decided by the number of death-threat text messages sent by wide receivers, and we all know who wins in that case. So I think it's hard to make a case for anyone being the favorite in a season this unsettled.
2. The Gamecocks now face a stretch of games against Kentucky, Vanderbilt, and Tennessee in which they'll likely be in the unfamiliar territory of being relatively sizeable favorites. Which of these games presents the biggest challenge and risk of a potential upset for the Gamecocks?
It would be easy to say Kentucky here and have everyone go, "But did you say that before the loss to Kentucky?" Kind of. I said in the Team Speed Kills preview of this game that: "Any South Carolina fan with any sense ought to be scared of this game." It's hard to defeat any team 11 times in a row -- and I would say "save Vanderbilt," but I would prefer to wait until we've actually defeated Vanderbilt 11 times in a row. If you were to narrow the choice down to Vanderbilt and Tennessee, I'd go with Tennessee simply because what talent remains is probably still better than Vanderbilt's, and the Vols are more than likely going to ruin someone's season before it's over with.
Will it happen? I'm past trying to figure out what this team will do in a given week. Before the Kentucky game, I was confident that this season could be different; I'm not as sure now.
3. The biggest surprise for this year’s team has to be the offense's rapid transformation into something that looks increasingly like a vintage Spurrier offense. What has the difference maker been for the Carolina offense?
Marcus Lattimore. One of the things about Spurrier that's always been overlooked is that he had a pretty good running game at Florida. It wasn't as good as the passing game, of course, but it was almost always a solid part of the team. And this year, Spurrier has been willing to mix in some of the spread look that he said he would incorporate from Shawn Elliott. The result has been less of a need for Garcia to throw the ball and a little more time to throw the ball when he has to.
But you also can't give short shrift to Alshon Jeffery and Tori Gurley. They are about as good a 1-2 punch as South Carolina has ever had on the same field during the Spurrier Era, perhaps even better than Sidney Rice-Kenny McKinley. Couple that with what I still believe to be one of the best years by a quarterback under Spurrier by Garcia, and it's a good mix.
Finally, the Alabama game is the only one where South Carolina faced a great defense. It will take a little bit more time to figure out if the Gamecocks can perform like this on a consistent basis. Last weekend wasn't promising, but it also doesn't mean that all hope is lost.
Yes to both. I don't believe there ever really was a quarterback controversy; I think Spurrier wanted Garcia to think there was a quarterback controversy. For the same reason,
I think Connor Shaw is likely to continue to get some playing time. Garcia seems to be someone who needs constant motivation to keep playing at a high level. Besides, I think Spurrier's head would explode if he had to go another season without switching quarterbacks every once in a while.
That said, I don't think it's a good idea to regularly rotate another quarterback in during meaningful playing time, at least not the way Spurrier does it. If Shaw is really all that good during practice, give him a series in the first half to show what he can do. Otherwise, don't send in him in a move that can only disrupt the offense's rhythm and telegraph your play call to the opponent.