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Magic in Columbia?

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By Matt Osborne
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Although the Gamecocks assuredly still have a difficult road ahead, the stars seem to be aligning for South Carolina to make a legitimate run at the BCS title for the first time in school history.

At a place such as SEC Media Days, where the combination of a frenzied atmosphere and wacky questions always yields interesting storylines, there is never a shortage of topics open for discussion.

Looking back at Day One of the 2013 SEC Media Days, one of the more-talked about topics on the minds of media members was the South Carolina Gamecocks’ football team and the legitimacy of a potential national title run for a program lacking longstanding gridiron tradition.

Coming off of back-to-back 11-win seasons in Columbia, the state of the South Carolina program has never been better. Legendary coach Steve Spurrier has elevated the Gamecocks from an afterthought in the nation’s most powerful football conference, to a team legitimately capable of contending for SEC titles.

But what about the thought of South Carolina competing for the Crystal Trophy at the conclusion of the season? The Gamecocks have never even won an SEC championship, much less been in the running for the national hardware coming down the stretch.

Despite a past history which would indicate that the Gamecocks are a team to be taken lightly by the college football world, things seem to be setting up nicely for a magical campaign in Columbia.

Led by All-American defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina’s defense will once again be one of the most dominant units in the conference, if not the country. Three starters are also set to return in the secondary, giving Lorenzo Ward’s unit tremendous balance and experience on both the front and back ends.

Offensively, four offensive linemen return to a unit which greatly underperformed last fall. Although the Gamecocks ran the football nearly 500 times in 2012, South Carolina finished 13th in the SEC in rushing offense (138.5 yards per game) and tied for last in yards per carry (3.67).

Marcus Lattimore will no longer factor into the rotation in the backfield, but rising sophomore Mike Davis is a former elite high school prospect who rushed for 275 yards a year ago.

There are also plenty of playmakers out wide for the Gamecocks. Bruce Ellington and Damiere Byrd were two of the three leading receivers in terms of yardage last fall, while Shaq Roland is expected to have a breakout season stepping into a new role as a starter.

While exceptional balance and tremendous talent on both sides of the football generally lead to positive results on the gridiron, they aren’t always enough to make a team into a legitimate title contender. Usually, one or two extemporaneous factors must come into play in order for those title hopes to come to fruition.

For South Carolina, perhaps the biggest reason for optimism this fall is the Gamecocks’ manageable (finally) schedule.

At first glance, the Gamecocks appear to have three games which would be considered toss-ups heading into the fall: at Georgia, Florida and Clemson. Assuming the Gamecocks can take care of business in all of the nine other games (not a given, but also a realistic expectation), South Carolina’s season will essentially be shrunk down to the point where the three aforementioned games determine the program’s title aspirations.

Continuing to examine the schedule closely, South Carolina will also benefit from outside factors leading up to its three biggest games.

South Carolina plays on the road at Georgia in week two, but will first play North Carolina on a Thursday night to open the season, giving the Gamecocks two extra days of preparation for the Bulldogs. Georgia is also facing Clemson in its season opener, so the Bulldogs will not be able to look ahead to their SEC East showdown.

The Gamecocks’ game with Florida lands on November 6, but South Carolina will have a bye week the Saturday prior. Spurrier will also be sure to have his squad fully motivated after last fall’s 44-11 defeat in the Swamp.

South Carolina draws Coastal Carolina the Saturday prior to the season finale against Clemson. Playing an FCS opponent will afford the team with the luxury of resting key players and potentially even doing some early game planning for the biggest rivalry game of the season.

Talent is always a key to any championship run, but it is never the lone factor. In order for a team to win the national title, a key series of events must occur which allow the team to remain atop the BCS standings.

Although the Gamecocks assuredly still have a difficult road ahead, the stars seem to be aligning for South Carolina to make a legitimate run at the BCS title for the first time in school history.

Matt Osborne – Matt Osborne currently serves as the director of recruiting and lead editor for Southern Pigskin. His work has been published in a number of national publications, including USA Today. Although he loves all levels of football, Matt’s number one joy in his life is his relationship with Jesus Christ. Follow Matt on Twitter: @MattOsborne200. For media requests, please email Matt at [email protected].

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