South Carolina spring wrap

2009 overall record: 7-6

2009 conference record: 3-5

Returning starters

Offense: 8; Defense: 7; Kicker/punter: 2

Top returners

QB Stephen Garcia, WR Alshon Jeffery, TE Weslye Saunders, C T.J. Johnson, DE Cliff Matthews, LB Shaq Wilson, CB Stephon Gilmore, CB Chris Culliver.

Key losses

WR Moe Brown, DE Clifton Geathers, LB Eric Norwood, SS Darian Stewart

2009 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Kenny Miles* (626 yards)

Passing: Stephen Garcia* (2,862 yards)

Receiving: Alshon Jeffery* (763 yards)

Tackles: Shaq Wilson* (85)

Sacks: Cliff Matthews* and Eric Norwood (7)

Interceptions: Eric Norwood (2)

Spring answers

1. Spurrier back in charge: It’s been a hot button around Columbia for the last two years, but South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier made it clear this spring that he would be calling all of the plays next season on offense. He insists that he called most of them last season. But there’s no gray area now. Moreover, he says he’s going back to the way he was at Florida, and in his words, start being more of a jerk and doing more yelling to cut down on what Spurrier says has been too much soft play.

2. Young talent: There’s no debating the young talent in this program, and lot of them are sophomores. The likes of cornerback Stephon Gilmore, receiver Alshon Jeffery, receiver Tori Gurley, safety DeVonte Holloman and running back Jarvis Giles make for a solid nucleus. Prized freshman running back Marcus Lattimore is on the way along with three freshman offensive linemen – A.J. Cann, Tramell Williams and Ronald Patrick – that Spurrier thinks will be able to help sooner rather than later.

3. Defensive pride: The Gamecocks have finished in the top 15 nationally each of the last two years in total defense, and they have the pieces in place to be just as good in 2010 under Ellis Johnson, the assistant head coach for the defense. Cliff Matthews was injured this spring, but is an All-SEC defensive lineman. There’s outstanding speed across the board, and Gilmore returns as one of the top corners in the league. It’s a defense that has consistently played with pride and purpose under Johnson.

Fall questions

1. Garcia’s commitment: Spurrier has made it known (loud and clear) that Stephen Garcia better not get too comfortable this summer as the starting quarterback. The Head Ball Coach is down on Garcia’s commitment and work ethic and is seriously considering playing freshman Connor Shaw if Garcia doesn’t have a good summer. Spurrier has never been hesitant about criticizing his quarterbacks. But this is a gamble, especially if Garcia doesn’t respond and Spurrier loses him.

2. Offensive line stability: The Gamecocks are on their third different offensive line coach in three years. But that’s not the worst part. They’re still extremely unsettled up front, so much so that Spurrier isn't ruling out that a freshman or two could come in and play. New offensive line coach Shawn Elliott has his work cut out. South Carolina gave up 37 sacks a year ago and was last in the SEC in rushing offense. The two stalwarts are Jarriel King at left tackle and T.J. Johnson at center. The Gamecocks could use a healthy Quintin Richardson at right tackle in the fall. He was injured this spring.

3. Handling expectations: With 15 starters returning and the East race seemingly more wide open than it has been in a while, there’s a growing feeling that this may be Spurrier’s best chance yet at South Carolina to contend for a title. The players are all talking a good game and say they’re committed to making it happen this season. We’ll find out soon enough if they’re sincere. Georgia comes to Columbia the second week of the season. If the Gamecocks are going to be a legitimate contender, that’s a game they’ve got to win.