One of the few things that could cause problems for South Carolina this season is not the amount of turnover, but where it is. South Carolina is one of the most experienced teams in college football this year, but it loses perhaps the best quarterback in the history of the program, perhaps the best player in the history of the program and the most productive wide receiver from 2013. And those are just the biggest names on the departure list.
At the same time, there are still some quality players returning, from a potential dark-horse Heisman candidate at running back to a capable back-up quarterback to a top-tier recruit still looking for the season that will give him the stats to match his recruiting reputation. We'll find out which of those factors is more important starting Thursday.
BIGGEST RETURN | RB Mike Davis
It was easy for Mike Davis to get lost on last year's South Carolina team, between Jadeveon Clowney and Connor Shaw and Steve Spurrier's always outsized personality. But you looked up at one point of the season, and Davis had piled up more than 1,000 yards rushing and quietly become one of the better backs in the SEC. Marcus Lattimore's successor ran for 1,183 yards on 203 carries -- Lattimore rushed for 1,197 yards on 249 carries in his best year -- and was the second-leading receiver on the team, catching 34 passes for 352 yards. Spurrier is probably not going to lean on Davis quite as much as he did on Lattimore in some games -- he carried the ball 37 times in the 2011 showdown with Navy -- but given that Dylan Thompson isn't quite as mobile as Shaw and the best receiver from last year's team is gone, Davis could get closer to 250 carries this year, which would put him at 1,450 yards if he keeps up last year's per-carry average.
BIGGEST LOSS | DE Jadeveon Clowney
Sure, his three sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss might not have quite lived up to the preseason Heisman hype. But with all due respect to Connor Shaw, who was amazing in 2013, it's hard to see any single player that the Gamecocks will have more trouble replacing. Anyone who watched South Carolina play last year knows why Clowney had those stats, as one of the anonymous coaches quoted by Athlon this year explained.
Most will say Clowney was this or that -- I’ll tell you, you had to gameplan for him. You had to have a special plan for him, anybody who said they didn’t was full of (expletive). That was the one guy in the county you had to do that for. That changes things for them.
In fact, teams focusing on Clowney was one of the reasons Kelcy Quarles had huge numbers in 2013: 9.5 sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss. And Quarles is also gone, magnifying the problems that South Carolina could experience along the defensive line.
BREAKTHROUGH POSSIBILITY | WR Shaq Roland
Gamecock fans have been waiting on this for a while, but 2014 might finally be the season when Roland performs. Bruce Ellington is gone, and South Carolina might try to throw the ball downfield a bit more with Thompson -- all of which could benefit Roland, whose 18.2 yards per catch was the best on the team last season. Somewhere between Roland, Damiere Byrd and some other wideouts, the team is going to have to replace Ellington's production, and if Roland can get more consistent, it will likely be him.