GAMECOCKS 2007: vs. FLORIDA
First off, go ahead and give the Gators credit for bring the crystal football back to the conference to which it rightfully belongs.
Just remember who got Florida's first one, okay?
For the Gamecocks, last year's defeat in the Swamp was one of the most painful losses of the year. They did practically everything right. They were in a position to fell the giant, to knock the (sorta) hated Gators out of the NC race, and to notch their second straight season of beating Florida, something that I don't believe has ever happened.
And then Jarvis Moss strapped on his rocket pack and made what has to be one of the greatest special-teams plays I have ever seen.
Good riddance, No. 94.
Jarvis Moss is gone. So are, ahem, nine of the Gators' starters on defense. Nine. Not to say that's what's left are redshirt freshmen who don't have a clue. There's a goodly number of upperclassmen, and no one wins a NC because their starters are great and their backups aren't even good.
That said, this will not be the same defense that carried Florida to Glendale last year. On the other hand, the offense gets weapons Andre Caldwell, Percy Harvin, Cornelius Ingram and Tim Tebow back for what could be a second run at the SEC crown.
O-line. A unit that allowed 23 sacks last year returns four starters, with right guard the only hole that needs filling. Redshirt freshman Maurice Hill is the expected starter there. Three of the starters are 300+ lbs.; the other two weigh in at 297 and 298. ADVANTAGE: FLORIDA
Quarterback. Accomplishment, or hype? Because the hype that surrounded Tim Tebow is almost unbelievable. If you're a Gamecock fan, think Stephen Garcia. Then double that. You have a good idea of how excited the Gators faithful were, and still are, about Tebow. The human bulldozer ran for 469 yards and 8 TDs last year. The question, of course, is (to quote thousands of people), "How will he do when everyone knows he's going to throw. If how he ran when everyone knew he was going to run is any indication, pretty well. And he wasn't exactly bad passing last year, going 22-for-33 for 358 yards, 5 TDs and 1 INT. Still, without having seen Tebow play a full game, C&F cannot give him the nod. ADVANTAGE: PUSH
Running backs. For the most part, Urban Meyer has not exactly been pleased with his running backs since coming to Gainesville. In fact, the top two returning rushers for Florida this year are Tebow and Harvin (428 yards, 3 TDs), who's listed as a WR but moves all over the field. But Meyer seems pleased this year with Kestahn Moore. Moore averaged a touch over 5 yards a carry in limited action last year (54 carries, 289 yards), scoring twice. ADVANTAGE: SOUTH CAROLINA
Wide receivers. Caldwell returns having caught 57 balls for 577 yards and 6 scores. Harvin grabbed 34 passes for 427 yards and 2 TDs, and is (to C&F, anyway) a scaryscaryscary player who is dangerous no matter where he lines up or where he gets the ball. Ingram is the only other returning starter with double-digit receptions, snagging 30 for 380 yards and a TD. ADVANTAGE: FLORIDA
Has anyone ever told him about the virtues of transferring?
Defensive line. Derrick Harvey, who was a monster last year with 35 tackles, 13 for loss and 11 sacks, returns for 2007. But the other three projected starters have total of 1.0 sack among them. ADVANTAGE: SOUTH CAROLINA
Linebackers. No starters return. Zero. Nada. A.J. Jones, a likely starter at SLB, is a redshirt freshman. Brandon Spikes and Dustin Doe combined for 37 tackles last season, 2 for loss. ADVANTAGE: SOUTH CAROLINA
Secondary. Reggie Nelson, the harvester of lives, is -- you guessed it -- no longer with the Gators. Florida does have one returning starter in Tony Joiner, who had 59 tackles, 2 INTs and broke up six passes. The other starters were not statistically significant. ADVANTAGE: SOUTH CAROLINA
This is an interesting one. Brandon James will return kicks and punts, as he did last year in a so-so performance. On the kicking side, well ...
Put it this way: Meyer offered a guy a scholarship for making kicks. (HT: EDSBS) In practice. Probably because Chris Hetland made 40 percent of his FG attempts last year. Or, put the way Meyer probably saw it, Hetland missed 60 percent of his FG attempts last year. ADVANTAGE: PUSH
There are few coaches in the SEC that can even make you pause and think about this. Urban Meyer is one of them. He's that good. He went to Bowling Green ... and won. He went to Utah ... and won. He's now at Florida ... where he won. Meyer has the potential -- if he's not just a serial job-hopper -- to create a legend at Florida. But he hasn't been around long enough to give one of these two great coaches the definitive edge. ADVANTAGE: PUSH
C&F's heart says to go with the Gamecocks. And this is a winnable game. But that's different than saying it will be done. These guys are the defending SEC and national champions, and you have to give them the best shot at winning this game unless and until South Carolina opens the year in excellent form or the Gators struggle. LIKELY LOSS
WHERE SOUTH CAROLINA WOULD BE
Again, given that all C&F's predictions comes true, the Gamecocks could be 8-3 or 7-4. The Clemson game, for which South Carolina will have two weeks to prepare, will then be the difference between great (9-3), good (8-4) or standing pat (7-5). Would you really have it any other way?
THE REST OF THEIR SEASON
Florida will be 2-0 after hosting Western Kentucky and Troy at the Swamp. Tennessee comes to Gainesville, and then the Gators go to Ole Miss, so Florida in all likelihood starts 4-0 before running into a tough stretch where they will play Auburn, at LSU, at Kentucky, vs. Georgia, Vandy and at South Carolina. Four of those will start with the Gators favored, but they could lose to both Auburn and LSU. The season wraps up with home tilts with Florida Atlantic and FSU. The most likely record is 10-2, but the chances of a 9-3 record also look good -- better than 11-1.