A look at the players who will play a key role in the 2013 race for the SEC East
The Heisman candidate. Unless you decided to spend the last seven months completely ignoring college football news, you've heard about Jadeveon Clowney. You've also heard about The Hit, the epic collision with Vincent Smith that ended with Smith sprawled on his back, Smith's helmet zipping through the air for five or ten yards and Clowney picking up the football to help South Carolina win the game. That and the pure, freakish athletic ability that make Clowney more intimidating than any other defensive lineman in the game has led to an offseason of almost otherworldy hype. If Clowney can live up to that buzz, he could end up as the second Heisman winner in South Carolina history.
Could he be even better? The reasonable best-case scenario for Clowney isn't too much ahead of what he did last year. Clowney logged 13 sacks among 23.5 tackles for loss, costing opposing offenses a combined 113 yards. He also hurried the quarterback five more times. Of course, when you've gotten as much hype as Clowney has, you can be forgiven a little bit of exuberance -- and the junior has that, saying he wants to break the single-season sacks record of 27. (Derrick Thomas' career record is in no real danger. Clowney would need 32 hits on the quarterback to get there.) If Clowney could manage to average more than two sacks a game in 2013 -- what he'd need to get the record -- there won't be much suspense about who will get the big trophy in December in New York City.
Supporting cast? The thing that could hold Clowney back is that he will be the centerpiece of the Gamecocks' defense -- and every offensive coordinator in the game will know that. South Carolina is losing basically its entire linebacking corps, a couple of Clowney's mates along the defensive line and a couple of key players out of the secondary. If no one else can become a threat -- look for Chaz Sutton to post some impressive numbers along the line this year -- then defenses will be free to double-team and potentially even triple-team Clowney to keep him from getting into the backfield. There's probably no way to completely shut Clowney down, but slowing him down enough to allow your offense to function is within reason.
In the final analysis. The 2013 season could be a special one for Clowney, but he's going to need a few of his teammates to help him. The flip side of offseason buzz is that everybody knows who you are, not that Clowney was exactly anonymous last year. So the most feared player in the country needs some help -- but if he can get it, he could become the second primarily defensive player to win the Heisman. He will probably come up short of that goal, but look for Clowney to be a major factor in several Gamecock wins this year.
More from Team Speed Kills:
- Florida's Schedule Flips the Script for SEC East Contenders | SEC 2013
- South Carolina Looks to Set Some Records Against Familiar Foes | SEC 2013
- Georgia's First Month is Brutal. Then, Things Calm Down a Bit | SEC 2013
- Arkansas' 2012 Football Season is the Worst Disaster in SEC History
- SEC Lands Six in Preseason Coaches Poll