Gameday Has Arrived For #9 Gamecocks

(WOLO) — For the first time in school history, South Carolina football will kick off its season as a top ten team. The #9 Gamecocks officially start the 2012 season at 7:01 at Vanderbilt on ESPN. Here are nine things to watch in USC’s season opener. 1. The Return of Lattimore — Marcus Lattimore makes his return from season-ending knee surgery that caused him to miss the last half of the 2011 season. The junior from the upstate was in the Heisman conversation when he went down last season. Gamecock fans are hoping he will return to his old form. 2. Consistency of Connor — For the first time in his South Carolina tenure, Steve Spurrier has stability at quarterback. Junior Connor Shaw finished the 2011 season strong, leading the country in quarterback efficiency in the final four games. He completed 70.1 percent of his passes, threw eight touchdowns and had two interceptions. USC won all four of those games. Shaw will be trying to erase some bad season opener memories. Last year against East Carolina, the sophomore started the first quarter and had eight yards passing and a fumble. 3. Secret to Success — This offseason, Steve Spurrier had some of his Ol’ Ball Coach swagger back after leading USC to a school-record 11 wins in 2011. Spurrier has once again said the goal for Carolina football is to win its first SEC championship, but he has been careful to point out that Gamecock football does not have a history of putting two good seasons together. USC followed up its previous best season, 10-2 in 1984, by finishing 5-6 in 1985. 4. Clowney Around — After a freshman season that included eight sacks (2nd on the team) and a team-high five forced fumbles, the former #1 recruit in the country is again getting national recognition. Clowney, along with Lattimore, has made several preseason All-American teams. The sophomore defensive end will be counted on heavily to keep Carolina’s defense, #3 in the country in total defense last season, among the best in the nation in 2012. 5. Taylor Made — After an All-SEC campaign as a sophomore, Devin Taylor’s numbers dipped last year as a junior. He finished the 2011 season with six sacks (third on the team). The 6-8, 267-pound senior defensive end decided to return to school to improve his NFL draft stock. The Gamecocks hope Taylor and Clowney can become the best pair of defensive ends in the country. 6. Whammy Time — Lorenzo Ward has the tall task of replacing Ellis Johnson as the Gamecocks’ defensive coordinator. Ward says the 2012 Gamecocks will be more aggressive and blitz more than previous USC defenses. In 2011, Carolina finished tied for the top spot in the country giving up just one play of 40 or more yards all season. If USC can avoid giving up the big one again in 2012, Ward, who goes by the nickname Whammy, will thrive in his first season in charge of the defense. 7. Shaq Attack — Lexington High School All-American Shaq Roland is expected to see plenty of playing time at wide receiver. The Gamecocks will need him or someone else to fill the big void left by All-SEC receiver Alshon Jeffery’s early departure to the NFL. 8. Legree’s Pedigree — After a disappointing sophomore season that began as the starting safety but ended with only eight tackles, Jimmy Legree plans on redeeming himself in 2012. The junior from Beaufort has moved to his natural position of corner and will be in the starting lineup against Vanderbilt after senior Akeem Auguste went down with a thigh injury. 9. Shell Game — After a surprising redshirt season, Brandon Shell will begin his college football career as the Gamecocks’ starting left tackle. His ability to adjust to the SEC and keep Connor Shaw’s blindside protected will be key to Carolina’s ability to stretch the field with the vertical passing game. Shell, the nephew of NFL Hall of Famer Art Shell, will be seeing some of the country’s best pass rushers week in and week out.

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