Time to take a look at MSU's Week 7 opponent. This game will be followed by the Bulldogs' first bye week, but this feature won't be taking the week off. This will be the fourth SEC game of the season for State and the second against an Eastern Division foe in three weeks.
South Carolina Gamecocks (Oct. 15, in Starkville)
• Conference: SEC
• 2010 record: 9-5 (5-3, 1st Eastern Division)
• Final ranking: No. 22 AP, No. 22 USA Today, No. 20 BCS
• Coach: Steve Spurrier (44-33, six years)
• Returning starters: 14 (7 offense, 6 defense, 1 specialist)
• Last meeting: South Carolina, 38-21 (Sept. 29, 2007, in Columbia)
• On the Web: gamecocksonline.com
South Carolina in a nutshell: Legitimate studs sprinkled throughout the lineup, and one guy who thinks he's more of a stud than he is.
You know who I'm talking about. Which one of these is not like the other: Jadeveon Clowney, Alshon Jeffery, Marcus Lattimore and Stephen Garcia. Three of those guys are all-SEC material, or to use another word, beasts. They are the main reasons South Carolina has a chance to repeat as division champ and make another trip to Atlanta.
Garcia is the guy who could undo all that. He's on a short leash from Steve Spurrier, albeit a leash that the ol' ball coach seems unwilling to yank so his quarterback might actually feel a little pain. Garcia's latest of many transgressions was general jackass-edness before and during an SEC-mandated violence prevention seminar in April.
There's no guarantee Garcia will be allowed to play this fall, but if he is, he does have the ability to lead a potent offense. Two big questions: A) Can he keep his nose clean off the field and not be a distraction? B) Can he be more consistent?
We've seen really good things from Garcia at times. We've seen really bad things, too. If he can't get it done this fall, or if he simply isn't available, the burden will then fall to sophomore Connor Shaw.
But let's focus on the positives, like Lattimore. He abused SEC defenses as a freshman last year, gaining 1,197 yards and scored 17 touchdowns on the ground en route to All-SEC honors. The South Carolina preview in Athlon says Lattimore (6-foot, 231 pounds) is even more of a physical specimen now than he was last season.
Expect the Gamecocks to run the ball more than they did last year, when 57.3 percent of their plays were of the rushing variety.
Not that SC doesn't have a solid receiving corps. Jeffery might be the best in the league at his position – as a sophomore he led the SEC with 88 catches for 1,517 yards and nine TDs. At 6-4, 233, he's nearly impossible to cover one-on-one, and South Carolina is hoping the rest of its receivers will be good enough to minimize the double teams on Jeffery.
Expect to see some double teams against Clowney (6-6, 245), the super freshman defensive end who signed as the No. 1 prospect in the country. I've seen video of this kid, and to even call him a kid like I just did is a gross insult for which I should be flogged. I'm pretty sure he's related to Chuck Norris.
Here's the thing, though: Clowney is not the only stud defensive lineman on this team. Junior end Devin Taylor (6-7, 248) had 7.5 sacks last season, and senior tackle Melvin Ingram (6-2, 271) had 9.0. South Carolina's front line will terrorize opposing QBs, which might cover for some weaknesses in the secondary. The linebackers, led by Shaq Wilson, are solid.
This is one of those games MSU must win if it hopes to vie for the West crown. It's at home, and you can bet it'll be a packed house. While South Carolina is going to be good, there are question marks about this team (besides Garcia, I mean). Athlon has the Gamecocks finishing third in the East, while Phil Steele has them at second.
This will be the fourth SEC game in as many weeks for SC, the others being Vanderbilt, Auburn and Kentucky – all home games. State will be coming off a game at UAB.
Up next: Kentucky