How do you follow up a third consecutive 11-win season that culminated in a third straight bowl win over a Big-10 opponent?
Do it again of course.
The South Carolina football team had one of the youngest teams in the country this past season with only five seniors (four of whom were on scholarship). Even factoring in the several players who opted to forgo their final season of eligibility to take their chances in the NFL draft, the Gamecocks are returning a lot of veterans.
While the numbers might not be significant, the impact of those players leaving will be. Along with former Gamecock Marcus Lattimore, Jadeveon Clowney and Connor Shaw will be remembered as two of the best Gamecocks of the Spurrier era and likely all-time, and leave unreasonably big shoes to fill.
Connor Shaw is undeniably the best quarterback to ever don the garnet and black. The all-time leader in wins, undefeated at home, undefeated against Clemson, and undefeated in bowl games will be just a few of the many ways by which he will be remembered. His play making ability, both with his arm and his legs, is hard to quantify, and his efficiency (31 touchdowns compared to 1 int last season) is unfathomable. The leadership, intangibles, and inexplicable ability to pull wins out of thin air of perhaps that nation’s most overlooked player, will be missed.
Jadeveon Clowney is the most schemed against player I have ever seen in my time watching college football (even though I’m only 20). His ability to effect the game before he even stepped on the gridiron will be missed, and despite the outrageous and utterly erroneous claims that Clowney had a disappointing season, his ability to make big plays will be missed.
It is unfortunate that the other players leaving are left in the shadows of Clowney and Shaw (I say shadow when lunar eclipse is more appropriate) because each is good in his own right and will leave considerable shoes to fill.
Alongside Clowney on the defensive line and also departing early for the NFL is Kelcy Quarles. During the preseason, many analysts predicted that the extra attention that teams would be giving Clowney would free up defensive end Chaz Sutton to have a monstrous year. Kelcy obviously heard this and decided that he wanted to be the one to reap the benefits of the Clowney quadruple-teams. Ending the season with double digit sacks, Quarles turned himself into a force in SEC, leaving little doubt in anyone’s mind that he would depart. Still, the loss of three starting defensive linemen, particularly when they are as good as Clowney, Sutton, and Quarles will always hurt.
The losses of Jimmy Legree and Victor Hampton Jr. will perhaps be the most significant loss of the offseason because of the combined effect of losing both starting corners. Vic had the reputation of being a lock-down corner with big play potential, while both started a lot of games and should be playing on Sunday next year.
In any other year, the loss of a stud receiver and freak athlete like Bruce Ellington would be a big hit to any offense, and while his departure was a bit of a surprise and will certainly be felt, the depth at receiver and emergence of Shaq Roland could soften the blow.
Also not returning next year are Seniors Chaz Sutton (who had, by all accounts, a mediocre year) and guard Ronald Patrick. While Patrick experience on the offensive line contributed to the success of the unit this year, the fact that the other four starting linemen are returning should make the loss of Patrick virtually inconsequential.
Will Dylan Thompson be the next Connor Shaw?
Will Darius English fill Jadeveon Clowney’s shoes and be the next No. 1 overall pick?
The goal will not be to replace these great leaders and players though.
Will Dylan Thompson duplicate Connor Shaw’s production?
Will Darius English be a valuable piece of an elite SEC defense?
When Marcus Lattimore opted to enter the NFL draft after his junior year, many forecast doom and gloom for the Gamecock rushing attack. Not only have Mike Davis, Brandon Wilds, and the offensive line not let production drop, they have augmented the rushing attack by a considerable margin.
South Carolina will not be the same football team that they were last year, but that does not mean they can’t be even better.