Hope and concern: South Carolina


The good and bad for the Gamecocks as they try to get back to Atlanta for the second year in a row:

Biggest reason for hope: Dynamic playmakers across the board

There’s not a better running back/receiver combo in the league than Marcus Lattimore and Alshon Jeffery, and there might not be one better in all of college football. Lattimore has bulked up to 230 pounds and has already shown that he can handle as many carries as you want to give him in a game. The 6-4, 230-pound Jeffery is an impossible cover on the outside and is a lot faster than you think. Here’s the other thing: South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said Lattimore and Jeffery worked harder than anybody this offseason. On defense, end Devin Taylor is one of the best-kept secrets in the SEC, but not for much longer. As a sophomore, he was second in league games with 7.5 sacks, and the guy right behind him was teammate Melvin Ingram, who had six sacks against SEC competition while playing both end and tackle. They’ll add the nation’s No. 1 high school prospect, end Jadeveon Clowney, to the mix in the fall, while Stephon Gilmore is one of the top returning cornerbacks in the league.

Biggest reason for concern: Unsettled quarterback situation

If fifth-year senior Stephen Garcia does what’s required of him, manages to stay out of trouble and is allowed to rejoin the team, the Gamecocks have a guy returning who’s won for them. At times, Garcia was very good last season. But the question remains: Can you count on him, and what makes anybody think he won’t have another misstep after being suspended five times already? And if Garcia does come back, Connor Shaw is still sitting there after finishing the spring No. 1. He probably feels like it’s his job even though he’s only played sparingly in the SEC. Shaw didn’t have a great spring, but Spurrier likes the sophomore’s approach to the game and the way he works at it. Is he ready to step up and lead the Gamecocks back to the SEC championship game? And is Garcia ready to finally be the kind of leader the Gamecocks need at quarterback for an entire season? There are a lot more questions than answers at this point.