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SEC 2010 // South Carolina's Hope Rests on No Change

With a good deal of help from Year2.

If there's a sign of hope for the Gamecocks this year, it's that 16 starters return from last year's team -- nine of them on the offensive side of the ball. There's also the prospect that the returns are of a higher quality, perhaps, than in the past -- at least for a school like South Carolina. And the defense should continue to be relatively strong under Ellis Johnson.


The most anticipated return, both for better and worse, is Stephen Garcia, the frustrating quarterback who came to Columbia as a consensus four-star recruit. Garcia has lived up to the hype ... at times. He had five games with a passer rating of more than 140, had four with at least 300 yards passing and completed at least 58 percent of his passes seven times. But four times Garcia completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes, had more interceptions than touchdowns four times (including three TD-less outings).

The most anticipated return solely for the better is Alshon Jeffery. It's hard to call a consensus four-star recruit a revelation, but Jeffery was a solid wide receiver as a freshman. He had 46 receptions for 763 yards and six touchdowns. He's joined by fellow rising sophomore Tori Gurley (31, 440, 2) and a slate of receivers who likely won't blow the doors off anyone but are good enough to serve as checkdown for Garcia.

Chris Culliver, Stephon Gilmore and Akeem Auguste all return to the defensive backfield, trying to capitalize on their high recruiting rankings and South Carolina's growing reputation for producing Draft-caliber defensive backs. The three of them broke up a combined 20 passes last year and had a combined 156 tackles but had just one interception (by Gilmore). And Shaq Wilson brings his team-leading 85 tackles back to the linebacking corps.


If there's a major loss to the Gamecocks this year, it's former linebacker Eric Norwood, one of the best defensive players in recent South Carolina history. Norwood had 11.5 tackles for loss, seven sacks and 11 quarterback hurries in 2009. Oh, and he had two interceptions and three blocked kicks -- some of them at crucial points. For a team that returns a lot, South Carolina is losing quite possibly the best player from last year's team at any position.

Defensive linemen Nathan Pepper and Clifton Geathers are gone, as are their 5.5 sacks and 12 tackles for loss.

On offense, the only noticeable loss is Moe Brown, who always seemed to be on the verge of being a high-quality receiver and had 491 yards and 3 TDs last year.


Two words have given Gamecocks hope for a revival of a running game that has been stagnant since Cory Boyd left: Marcus Lattimore. Widely considered one of the best running backs in the recruiting class of 2010 -- if not the best running back nationwide -- Lattimore will likely get his chances to pass Kenny Miles, who had 626 yards and a TD last year.

Gilmore could also see more time as a Wildcat quarterback after last year's version was extensively used only in game against Clemson -- and the Tigers seemed unable to stop it. At the very least, if Spurrier shows he's willing to use it, it will give teams something else to prepare for and potentially help the running game.

The main question for the defense is how Devin Taylor and Travian Robertson will handle full-time duty; Taylor actually had more tackles and tackles for loss than Pepper, and Robertson is looking to show his four stars were worth it. Also needing to step up: Rodney Paulk, who will step in as middle linebacker, and DeVonte Holloman in the secondary.