South Carolina Football: Countdown to kickoff – 6

The 2014 college football season kicks off in 178 hours and counting. For South Carolina Football, preparation for Texas A&M began on Monday, meaning the coaches have a good idea of how the depth chart will look and what to expect from their respective units on August 28th. Since practices have been closed for the last two weeks however, those of us in the general public and the media have nothing to do but read these columns and speculate among ourselves. That said, here are 7 questions that will hopefully make for entertaining and provocative discussions over the next 7 days:

6) Who will step up at receiver?

Since Steve Spurrier arrived in Columbia in 2005, there has always been one receiver who was “the guy”, a luxury that is easy to overlook since none of Spurrier’s offenses since 2005 have exactly been high-flying. From the days of the legendary Sidney Rice, to the late Kenny McKinley, the transcendent Alshon Jeffery, the explosive Ace Sanders, and most recently, his clutchness, Bruce Ellington (I like adjectives, ok!), one guy has always stepped up when his team needed him.

Even in the post-fun-n’-gun Spurrier era, where the focal point of the team has shifted to stingy defense and balanced, clock management on offense, having a reliable point man at receiver is vitally important down the stretch, when some combination of luck and skill is necessary to get over the hump.

In years past, a Batman and Robin type dynamic has made it easy to determine who will be the next “Big Shot Brob” (™ Bill Simmons).

If that were the only barometer, then this would clearly be Shaq Roland’s year.

Entering his third year in the program, many would deem Roland’s past two year a slight disappointment. Marked by brief flashes of brilliance and long stretches on inconsistency, it is getting to be do-or-die time for Roland if he hopes to continue his playing career after 2015.

After a freshman campaign of five catches, 80 yards, and one touchdown, Roland quintupled his production last year (almost exactly: 25 catches, 455 yards, 5 touchdowns), particularly thriving down the stretch and showing a little ice in his veins. If he can carry that high level of play into this season, he could have an All-American caliber season.

The second-leading receiver for the Gamecocks last season, with 575 yards on 33 catches, was the track star, Damiere Byrd, who possesses the raw speed to be a threat on every play. Byrd has not exactly demonstrated “top guy” play over the last few years, but he continues to become a more complete receiver and continues to draw praise from Steve Spurrier Jr. Don’t count Byrd out.

Beyond that, Nick Jones was quietly second on the team in touchdowns with five last season, none of them more memorable than the late TD catch that completed the improbable comeback against Missouri in Columbia last season. A nose for the endzone is a valuable asset, and if the diminutive Jones keeps it up, he could be Thompson’s go-to guy in 2014.

Shamier Jeffrey and K.J. Brent are on the outside looking in, but both had excellent pre-season camps, and, given the opportunity, have the potential to supplant any of the aforementioned three.

Not having a dominant guy at this early stage keeps everyone honest and hungry for the top spot, but who will emerge come Thursday?

Just in case you missed No. 7, find out what changes are taking place along the offensive line