South Carolina Football: Countdown to kickoff – 5

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:

5) How much will the Gamecocks miss Clowney?

Well obviously a lot, no one can recreate “the hit“…EVER! Jadeveon Clowney may have been the most schemed-for player in the history of college football and for good reason. Because he possessed the ability to wreak havoc on any team at any time, opposing teams would have to create entirely specialized game-plans to avoid getting in the way of the tornado of destruction that was Jadeveon Clowney.

That said, there is little that can unite a defensive unit like disrespect. Maybe not active disrespect, but the collective national opinion that Clowney’s departure will signal a drop-off in defensive production will be more than enough to motivate Lorenzo Ward’s group.

While the loss of a gamer is always significant, the Gamecocks now possess the element of surprise, at least for now. This time last year, North Carolina was trying to figure out whether to double Clowney, single him and chip him with a back, triple team him, or just forfeit.

Texas A&M, on the other hand, has no idea what will hit them, and for that matter, neither do the Gamecock fans. Whether it is impressive freshman Bryson Allen-Williams off the blitz, or Darius English, whose offseason work with a dietician has him at a healthy playing weight, the Aggies will have to keep their head on a swivel, and this will be the story for every team the Gamecocks face until someone answers my next question:

4.5) Who will step up in Clowney’s place?

Apparently none of the media and a surprising dearth of the coaches think too highly of the individual talents of the Gamecock defense, as is evidenced by the pre-season All-SEC teams, meaning no one will have a big year?

Not exactly.

Ward’s defense this season will be a fascinating mix of apparently underappreciated veterans and young, uncultivated talent. The defensive line will be anchored by J.T. Surratt and Gerald Dixon Jr., who have both been around the program for several years, while the linebacking corps will likely, prominently feature true sophomore Skai Moore and true freshman Bryson Allen-Williams. Not to mention, on the line, a reinvented Darius English is basically a different player. In the defensive backfield, senior Brison Williams will start at one corner spot, and true freshman Al Harris Jr. will man the other corner.

Because of this diversity, it is hard to guess whether veterans J.T. Surratt or Brison Williams, both of whom have been named captains for the season opener, will step up as playmakers, whether Skai Moore will build off of a phenomenal freshman campaign that saw him lead the team in tackles and interceptions, or whether Al Harris Jr. will burst onto the scene and live up to his namesake.

Even though Clowney’s numbers last season didn’t exactly jump off the page, his impact on the game was inimitable. Fortunately, no one is expecting Lorenzo Ward to conjure up another Clowney, just someone to make timely plays in crucial moments.

So who will it be?

In case you missed Nos. 7 or 6, see what question marks linger ahead of Thursday’s season opener