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March 1, 2012

SEC Spring Preview: South Carolina


The next time Missouri plays a game it will be as a member of the Southeastern Conference. Over the next few weeks, PowerMizzou.com will introduce Tiger fans to their new league. We will do a question and answer session with our counterparts at each SEC school prior to spring football. Today, we take a look at South Carolina with Scott Hood, who covers Gamecock football for GamecockCentral.com.

What is the prognosis for Marcus Lattimore? Will he participate in spring ball? Will he be back 100% before the season?

: Lattimore tore knee ligaments and was sidelined for the 2011 season in the fourth quarter of the Oct. 15 win at Mississippi State. Because only about 4-1/2 months have passed since the injury, Lattimore is still rehabbing the injury. He will not participate in spring practice, which could be a blessing in disguise because younger running backs like Brandon Wilds should be able to enhance their development over the course of the 15 practice. However, Lattimore is expected to be ready for the start of pre-season camp in early August. His work ethic is legendary, so he should be 100 percent healthy by then.

Outside of Lattimore, what are the strengths of the Gamecocks?

: Offensively, South Carolina has excellent depth at running back (especially if Lattimore is able to return fully healthy), wide receiver and tight end. Between Lattimore and quarterback Connor Shaw, who is prolific in operating the read option scheme, SoCar should again have one of the top rushing offenses in the SEC. Defensively, the Gamecocks could have the best defensive end tandem in the country in Devin Taylor and Jadeveon Clowney. Both stand at least 6-foot-6 and will be difficult to throw over. The top four linebackers are all seniors, so SoCar should have plenty of experience in the middle of the defense. D.J. Swearinger is one of the top free safeties in the SEC and loves to hit people.

What questions does Steve Spurrier have to answer this spring?

: Quarterback Connor Shaw was 7-1 as the starter after taking over for the dismissed Stephen Garcia in Week 6. He had some success running and throwing the football, but he must still improve in certain areas such as getting rid of the ball quicker (Steve Spurrier's pet peeve about his QBs). Also, who will be the backup quarterback? Good question. If Lattimore isn't ready by the start of the season, who becomes the running back? The offensive line will be younger after losing three senior starters. Who steps up at receiver following the loss of Alshon Jeffery? There are a lot of candidates, but few answers right now. Who assumes the defensive tackle spot vacated by the reliable Travian Robertson? Who plays cornerback in the wake of the loss of three key players, including possible first-round NFL draft pick Stephon Gilmore? Several players will be vying for jobs there in the spring.

It looks like most will pick South Carolina or Georgia to win the East. Where do you stand on this, and do you see any of the other teams being able to rise up and surprise?

: South Carolina and Georgia should be the top two teams in the SEC East in 2012 with Florida third and Missouri battling Tennessee for fourth. I think Missouri could surprise as long as they're able to quickly adjust to the superior speed of the defenses in the SEC. Right now, I would say the Gamecocks are a slightly better team than Georgia, but the Bulldogs should be the favorite to win the division because of their soft conference schedule in which they miss Alabama, LSU and Arkansas for the second straight year. South Carolina must travel to Baton Rouge and host the Razorbacks.

South Carolina has enjoyed its greatest success since joining the SEC. With Missouri making the transition, what are the keys to becoming one of the better teams in the conference?

: Football games in the SEC are won in the trenches. Most successful teams in this conference share two characteristics: powerful offensive lines that can both run and pass block (think Alabama last season) and defensive lines that are incredibly quick and strong. The SEC has won six straight national championships for a reason - all those teams had dominant defensive lines. The formula is easy to figure out - defense wins in the SEC. Four of the top five defenses in the country last season were SEC teams. So, Missouri must become bigger, faster and stronger on defense and design an offense (and recruit players) that can handle the extremely talented and fast SEC defenses.

Scott Hood is the South Carolina football beat writer for GamecockCentral.com.

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