The Daily Gamecock

Letter from the (sports) editor

Head coach Steve Spurrier led South Carolina to three straight 11-win seasons — the first in school history — from 2011-2013. Then, last season, the wheels fell off. A traditionally superb defense looked lost at times and the Gamecocks blew three double-digit fourth quarter leads en route to a underwhelming 7-6 record.

For the first time in recent history, the Gamecocks enter 2015 with curbed expectations. A year after losing five players to the NFL, South Carolina faces a rebuilding process. At the same time, the Gamecocks are looking for a bounce-back season following a fifth-place finish in the SEC East.

Despite a down year, the Gamecocks still placed five players in the NFL, showing that last season’s disappointment was more than simply a lack of talent.

Football is a complex game. A team can fire on all cylinders one week and completely sputter out the next. No one aspect of last year’s team caused the setback.

Sure, the defense gave up 30.4 points per game, but it was the offense that put up just 20 points against Missouri and had turnovers on back-to-back fourth quarter possessions against Kentucky. Kickoff coverage was poor at times, gifting opponents good field positions, and coaching was poor at best in a some games.

For South Carolina, 2015 is an in-between year. There are plenty of things to love about the 2015 squad. A revamped defensive line and proven linebacking corps could have the defense back to its pre-2014 form while a thin offensive line and unproven quarterback could have the offense gasping for air.

It’s a season of "what ifs." What if last season was just a fluke and the Gamecocks go 10-2 and challenge for the SEC title? What if all goes wrong and the Gamecocks lose some of their winnable games and end up 6-6? Would Spurrier contemplate retirement?

Regardless of this season’s outcome, it will be a fun year.

Gamecock faithful have historically been one of the nation’s most loyal fan bases. During arguably the worst stretch in the history of the SEC when South Carolina lost 21 straight games from 1998-1999, the Gamecocks still averaged well over 70,000 fans per game.

Spurrier changed the culture at South Carolina, taking the Gamecocks to a school record of seven straight bowl games and the first three 11-win seasons in school history. He has brought national prominence to a school that has never been regarded as national power.

With the nation’s second-toughest schedule, the odds are against this South Carolina team. However, the odds were stacked against the Gamecocks when their starting quarterback was announced as an undersized, 72nd-ranked true sophomore athlete. Connor Shaw went on to lead the Gamecocks to a 27-5 record as a starter on his way to becoming the greatest quarterback in school history.

When his back is against the wall, Spurrier has an uncanny knack for finding unsung heroes. Will someone step up in 2015? If so, will junior All-American Pharoh Cooper have to do everything for the Gamecocks, or will they get contributions from elsewhere?

It may be unfair to expect double-digit wins out of this year’s team, but the Gamecocks do have SEC talent. Some experts have predicted the Gamecocks to have a breakout season and “shock the world” so to speak.

What does this team have to do to be considered a success? If the Gamecocks go 9-3, but lose to rivals Clemson and Georgia, is the season a success? If they beat Clemson in a 5-7 season, is it to be considered successful?

In this issue, we’ll examine every aspect of South Carolina football, spotlighting each position group and impact player and taking an in-depth look at every offseason change.

We’ll debate the policy of paying out stipends to student-athletes and look at the best and worst possible scenarios for the Gamecocks this season.

We’ll breakdown Thursday’s matchup with the Tar Heels and make our season predictions.

We’ll zoom out and examine the country as a whole, taking our best guess at the national title and Heisman winners.

From all of us on staff at The Daily Gamecock, we hope you enjoy reading this Weekender as much as we’ve enjoyed producing it.

Regardless of this year’s outcome, it will be a wild ride. Win or lose, we’ll raise our glasses and say, “Here’s a health Carolina, forever to thee.”