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South Carolina Gamecocks preview

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Pharoh Cooper is South Carolina's top offensive weapon. Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

After three straight 11-win seasons, the Gamecocks merely eked out a winning record last year thanks to their bowl win over Miami. Steve Spurrier insists he is re-energized, but the Head Ball Coach has his work cut out if he’s going to get South Carolina back to double-digit victories.

Offense

How the Gamecocks beat you: WR Pharoh Cooper returns as one of the best all-around offensive players in the SEC. He had 1,136 receiving yards last season and scored 11 TDs— 9 receiving and 2 rushing. South Carolina will use him in a number of ways, even lining him up occasionally as a wildcat QB. Of course, Cooper has to have someone to throw to him, and the Gamecocks need to find an heir to the departed Dylan Thompson. But they’re deep at running back, and Spurrier will look to spread the ball around. “We’ve got some younger guys on offense who are looking forward to their chance, and we’ll need them to come through,” he says.

How you beat the Gamecocks: This year’s roster doesn’t include a single QB who’s ever thrown a meaningful pass in a game. Redshirt sophomore Connor Mitch is the odds-on favorite to win the job (he has 6 career pass attempts), but true freshman Lorenzo Nunez will be on campus this summer and is a runpass option in the mold of former star Connor Shaw. Opposing defenses will come after whoever’s catching the snaps and try to force him into mistakes. Because Spurrier won’t be able to put too much of a load on any of his quarterbacks, the Gamecocks’ ability to run the ball will be critical.

Defense

How the Gamecocks beat you: South Carolina is bringing in several new defensive linemen it hopes will make immediate impacts. It’s a group led by juco end Marquavius Lewis, who’s already on campus and listed as a starter. Dante Sawyer will arrive this summer as another juco pass rusher who should help right away. Linebackers Skai Moore and Jonathan Walton will cause problems with their range and speed, and the Gamecocks also think their young defensive backs will be greatly improved. New co-defensive coordinator Jon Hoke will also bring an edge that was missing last season on defense, with much of his focus on improved tackling and better positioning to make plays.

How you beat the Gamecocks: Spurrier is still scratching his head over how the Gamecocks managed just 8 sacks in eight SEC games last season. “We just never could get any kind of pass rush, but we think we have better players up there this year—we hope so, anyway,” Spurrier says. The Gamecocks return eight starters on defense, though that doesn’t mean they’ll all start in 2015. These Gamecocks blew three two-TD leads in the fourth quarter last year, and Spurrier says he won’t be afraid to switch up his depth chart based on offseason performance.