The Gamecocks finished third in the SEC in red-zone touchdown percentage (71.2) and sixth in third-down conversion percentage (43.9) last season, and it would be hard to give the mobile Shaw too much credit for that. The pocket-passing Thompson likely will have to get things done a different way, but he needs to keep those numbers high for South Carolina to replicate its success of the past three seasons.
Regardless of statistics, Clowney was the most game planned-for defensive player in the SEC in the past decade. Now South Carolina will have to take a by-committee approach to disruption. Dixon, a 6-foot-2, 274-pound sophomore, could grow into a star, but he’ll need help this year from somewhere, whether it be from the slim – Darius English, Mason Harris or Cedrick Cooper – or the beefier – David Johnson (275 pounds).
Patrick toiled along mostly in obscurity last season, but the game he missed (a 23-21 loss to Tennessee) sticks out like a sore thumb. The re-emergence of Matulis, a 6-foot-5, 304-pound junior who missed most of the past two seasons due to injury, will cover for Patrick’s loss. If Matulis, who has had surgery on both shoulders, can stay healthy, he’ll bring an attitude to the offensive line that coach Steve Spurrier craves.
It’s looking more and more like senior Brison Williams. The preseason depth chart lists Rico McWilliams and former walk-on Sidney Rhodes. When spring practice ended, neither was ready to help the Gamecocks win SEC games this year. Even if Williams is moved from safety to cornerback, it’s likely USC will have to at least play, if not start, a true freshman on the edge.
It’s time for Roland, a Lexington native and former South Carolina Mr. Football, to be a star. He’s shown flashes, with 25 catches for 455 yards last season, but not enough consistency. He’s an upperclassman now (a junior) and should benefit from a more traditional, timing-based passing game with Thompson in the pocket this year.