By popular demand...
- - -
|8-5 (3-5 SEC / 5th, East)|
|Past Five Years|
|31-29 (17-17 SEC)|
|Returning Starters, Roughly|
|14 (6 Offense, 8 Defense)|
|Jasper Brinkley had all the numbers – 96 tackles, 14 for loss, five sacks – in his first season out of junior college, and came out of a packed crowd at his position to be the only Carolina player on last year’s all-SEC team. Though you have to question any panel of voters that doesn’t cast a single ballot for Sidney Rice, don’t you? Among others. Anyway, a 262-pound middle linebacker who covers the ground Brinkley does needs no validation from the press.|
|It’s the biggest, stupidest, most artificial and obliviously pompous routine in college sports, which is only one of the reasons the Gamecocks’ entrance to Williams-Brice is such great fun:
The other reasons: the big cooshy mascot cock going nuts after his "Magic Box" is unsheathed (like a real rooster at the light of dawn, see?), and the fitting antithesis of Bear Bryant’s grovelly, posthumous monologue before games in Tuscaloosa, Steve Spurrier’s totally flip "It’s tahm fer Carolina footbaw!"
|Bizarre Item of Dubious Interest|
To my disappointment, there’s no mythic story worthy of the great, unique name "Gamecocks," like an impromptu halftime throwdown between local strays taken as a good luck charm or anything – South Carolinians just
|vs. SEC||19-21 (.475)||8-8 (.500)|
|vs. Ranked||6-16 (.273)||3-6 (.333)|
In games of substance, the only thing to recommend the performance of Spurrier's teams over their immediate predecessors is their closeness in defeat against that "blue chip competition." It's hard to demonstrate in any objective way, too, that the OBC's second team even improved much from his first - would you trade a seven-win regular season, a tie for second in the division at 5-3, close wins over Tennessee and Florida and a two-point loss at Georgia for a seven-win regular season, a fifth-place finish at 3-5, close losses to Tennessee and Florida and a shutout defeat to Georgia at home? Viva la upward mobility, huh?
The concept of a steady track towards breakthrough level improvement from Carolina hinges on the idea that it was the rest of the division that was much better last year - Tennessee and Florida, in particular - rather than the Gamecocks who regressed, and that the `Cocks actually got much better as the season progressed. Specifically, from the point that Blake Mitchell re-entered the lineup as starting quarterback after the six-point loss at Arkansas in the ninth game:
|1st 9 Gms.||Last 4 Gms.|
Creampuff alerts: the left column includes games against Wofford and Florida Atlantic, the right with a big numbers show against Middle Tennessee. Every other game on both sides, though, is against either the SEC or Clemson or is a bowl game. It was my opinion at midseason that Syvelle Newton's creative scrambling was the best option at quarterback despite his liabilities as a passer, but Mitchell was in complete command of the Cock `n Fire from the point he entered the Arkansas game (USC was down 26-6 there until Mitchell made it a game with two late touchdowns, a week before leading the should-have-been shocker at Florida) and backs Cory Boyd and Mike Davis suddenly found the room to graduate from "viable" to "dangerous," matching their supposed platonic talent level. All projections of grandeur are based on the highs of that last month becoming the new normal.
Well, then, which is it? Are you the good Blake or are you the bad Blake?
- - -
Oh My God, They Overthrew Kenny! You Bastards!: Among my favorite players of 2006 was Kenny McKinley, one of the rare guys I notice every year who never seems to be regarded as anything more than an interchangable role player but is making plays every time you turn around. As it happens, I saw an unusual number of South Carolina games last year (all of Mississippi State, Auburn and Florida and chunks of Georgia, Kentucky, Arkansas, Clemson and Houston), but there was McKinley, every time; he made a spectacular catch against Mississippi State that set up the first score of the I-A season, was the only bright spot of a dismal performance against Georgia, noticeably replaced Sidney Rice (if only briefly) as the go-to receiver in the incredible keep-away game against Auburn, threw a key touchdown pass at Kentucky (see below), had 70 yards against Tennessee, had seven catches and a touchdown against Arkansas, 71 yards at Florida and 112 and two touchdowns in the bowl game. He wound up with 51 for 880 on the season (big-time 17.5 per catch), which made him the best number two receiver in the conference.
Kenny McKinley moves into the foreground.
- - -
Optimistic Cautious/Desperate Post-Spring Chatter: If the big move ultimately rests with improved physicality on the defense, Nix is confident we'll see that happening soon, though not necessarily as soon as this fall:
If only Spurrier could say the same thing:
"We're in dire straits (on) the offensive line right now," Spurrier said. "We're not very good. It's as simple as that."
Mitchell struggled in spring practice in 2006 and then continued down that path early in the season, losing his starting job and his confidence until he finally regained both late in the season. South Carolina can only hope his performance in this past spring game won't be indicative of his play early in the 2007 season.
Mitchell completed only 13 of 39 passes for 150 yards and was intercepted twice.
"He played about like this last year in the spring game, so I don't know the answer," coach Steve Spurrier said. "And I hate going into the offseason with your quarterback hitting 13 out of 39 when the other team only played two coverages."
That is bad, no doubt about it, so much so that epic freshman Stephen Garcia's name has come up at least as often in debates over the depth chart as in arrest reports, which is a lot. But in Blake's defense, he's been somewhat distracted these days, mostly from practicing his dancin' all night in private, Napoleon Dynamite style. Moves like that don't just happen, you know. And you know what else? It was totally worth it.
South Carolina on YouTube: If not the OBC specifically, YT innovators certainly had people like Spurrier in mind from the beginning, espcially where it concerns clips like this one, appropriately titled, "Steve Spurrier's Superior Snot Rocket":
"Superior" to the untrained eye, perhaps, but Spurrier quickly benched the remainder of that gob of mucus for an inexperienced yet promising young gland.
See Also: As if you needed visual evidence, never, ever hire Andre Ware to coach your defense ... The beginning of the end for Jackie Sherrill at Mississippi State, courtesy of walk-on Erik Kimrey (more here) ... And someone explain, please, how Troy Williamson is a top ten pick and this guy is still left in the second round?
Conventional Wisdom: As noted above, none of the magazines save Steele have the cajones to jump the `Cocks over Georgia, Tennessee and Florida, limiting expectations to the Music City Bowl and the like. Even the Great Phil stops short of wild BCS conjecture, slotting USC in the Outback Bowl, where it played twice in the not-so-halcyon days of Lou Holtzh. For its on-notice sabre rattling elsewhere, The Sporting News gets kinda harsh: "Will this be the breakout year? Don't count on it...Yeah, South Carolina should be happy with another middling bowl trip."
Spurrier: Unwittingly taught Jarvis Moss everything he knows.
Worst-Case: In its last five games against each, Carolina is collectively 4-20-1 against Georgia, LSU, Tennessee, Florida and Clemson, none of whom have designs on suddenly becoming its stepping stone to greatness. Right there, USC is fighting to stay on the cusp of bowl eligibility, a precarious position with Mississippi State, Kentucky, North Carolina, Vanderbilt and Arkansas representing the baseline must-wins. A bad or injury-plagued team could lose two of those and find itself wallowing in the Thanksgiving grime of 4-8.
Non-Binding Forecast: With Florida, Georgia and Tennessee, I said the winner of this division won't have fewer than two losses, and that's especially going to be true if it's South Carolina. But I'm not going to endorse USC for that level, mainly for its serious questions on both lines, an untenable position for any would-be contender, and especially one that's looking at the deep, strong running attacks of Georgia, LSU, Arkansas, Tennessee and Clemson. I do think the Cocks can move the ball with Spurrier's uncanny playcalling and beat one of the Big Three of the division, and possibly wind up in of one of them - again, they finished with the second-place tiebreaker over Florida and ahead of Tennessee just two years ago, so that's not a wild stretch by any means - but all those killer road games leave me thinking 8-4, probably no better than 4-4 in the conference, and nowhere near the division crown. Baby steps, maybe, but another December game in one of the Tennessee bowls (the Music City or Liberty) might not feel that way.
- - -
Previous assessments, absurd, reasonable and otherwise:
|March 12: Tulane||March 13: Baylor||March 16: UCLA||March 20: Kentucky|
|March 21: Oregon||March 22: Arizona State||March 23: BYU||March 27: Missouri|
|March 28: Troy||March 29: Iowa State||April 3: Alabama||April 4: Akron|
|April 5: Cincinnati||April 9: UL-Monroe||April 10: Army||April 11: Syracuse|
|April 18: Florida||April 20: Southern Miss||April 25: Southern Cal||May 1: North Texas|
|May 3: SMU||May 8: Nevada||May 14: Tennessee||May 21: TCU|
|May 24: Notre Dame||May 29: UAB||May 30: Georgia||May 31: Temple|
|June 1: Houston||June 12: Wyoming||June 14: Nebraska||June 25: Florida International|
|June 27: Oregon State||July 2: Michigan||July 6: Washington||July 9: Boise State|
|July 11: Georgia Tech||July 12: South Carolina|