Welcome back to day 2 of the 2009 College Football Preview. This time, I'm taking an in-depth look at the season to come for Georgia and South Carolina. Tomorrow, I'll preview our ACC area teams, Clemson and Georgia Tech.
2008 Results (10-3, 6-2)
OFFENSE: There are some big shoes to fill on offense. In fact, three pairs of shoes. When talent like Matthew Stafford, Knowshon Moreno and Mohammed Massaquoi leave, no doubt the offense will suffer. The good news is that they have a veteran QB stepping in with Joe Cox. The bad news is that last year, he attempted only 15 passes. Aside his fiery red hair, there is nothing flashy about Cox, but that's just fine with him. He knows the system and has enough talent to guide this team.
Caleb King should have come into this season as the starting tailback but thanks to injuries, he may have lost that role to sophomore Richard Samuel. Odds are, this will be a tailback-by-committee early on, which is fine until one steps up. A.J. Green returns for his sophomore season and should be an All-America candidate. Last year, he compiled 56 catches for 963 yards and 8 TD. Without a doubt, he will be Cox's favorite target. Besides him, look for names like Michael Moore, and freshmen Tavarres King and Marlon Brown.
The offensive line returns four starters, which is great news, especially with a new QB under center. The only non-starter is LT Trinton Sturdivant, who would have started last year if not for a knee injury that kept him out all year. This is a solid group up front, and the best part is that they should all be back next year, as all of them are either sophomores or juniors.
DEFENSE: On defense, the Dawgs did lose some good players, such as Laney grad Corvey Irvin at DT and DB Asher Allen. But there is still plenty of talent for Willie Martinez to work with. DT Jeff Owens returns after injuring his leg in the season opener and missing the rest of the season. He and Geno Atkins will be tough to run against in the middle at DT. The defensive end spot is a bit weak though.
The linebacking corps is led by tackling machine Rennie Curran (115 tackles, 63 solo). Alongside Curran is fellow returning starter MLB Akeem Dent and newcomer to the starting role Darryl Gamble. Both players need to step up their games if this defense is going to improve upon their 22nd ranking from last year. Look out for senior Marcus Washington. He missed all of 2008 due to injury.
The defensive backs are a mix of young and old. Junior Reshad Jones headlines the group, who returns after flirting with the NFL. He led the team with 5 INT last year and will be counted on to do the same this season. CB Prince Miller also returns and will be joined at CB with sophomore Brandon Miller. There's also a good chance former Westside Patriot Sanders Cummings could see some extensive playing time at CB.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Blair Walsh returns as kicker and for UGA's sake, let's hope his sophomore season is better than his freshman season. Despite coming in as the top high school kicker in the nation, Walsh went 15/23 and didn't hold up too well under pressure. That pressure will only grow so he needs to handle it. Drew Butler looks to be taking over as punter. Look for Prince Miller, Caleb King and Brandon Boykin to handle returns.
9/5 @ Oklahoma State
9/12 South Carolina
9/19 @ Arkansas
9/26 Arizona State
10/10 @ Tennessee
10/17 @ Vanderbilt
10/31 Florida (Jacksonville)
11/7 Tennessee Tech
11/28 @ Georgia Tech
FINAL ANALYSIS: It's pretty obvious that this team rides on the right arm of Joe Cox. If he excels at quarterback, the Dawgs have a chance of putting together another 10-win season. But if he struggles from the start, it could be a long year, especially considering the team plays probably the toughest non-conference schedule of any team in the nation. We'll learn a lot about the team in Week one when they face Oklahoma State in Stillwater. The defense will have their hands full with one of the best offenses in the nation and should be a good test for what will be another tough year in the SEC. If the offensive line stays healthy and the defensive line can make an impact, this will be another good team. But there are a lot of unknowns right now.
MY PREDICTION: GEORGIA 8-4
SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS
2008 Results (7-6, 4-4)
OFFENSE: For the first time in what seems like an eternity, Steve Spurrier comes in knowing who his starting QB will be. Stephen Garcia takes over the role full-time now after splitting time with Chris Smelley last season. Garcia has the tools to be a good QB in the SEC. It's just a matter of him putting it all together. He'll need to throw less INT (8) and throw more TD (6) to be successful but after a full offseason with coach Spurrier and knowing the starting role was his, look for a vast improvement.
Mike Davis is gone at RB but honestly, that's not that big a loss. You see, the Gamecocks only rushed for 1,223 yards as a team last year! In other words, running the ball is not a priority. If it becomes one, look for Brian Maddox to get the bulk of the carries. Garcia has lost two big targets to throw to in WR Kenny McKinley and TE Jared Cook. But he will have 6'4 WR Jason Barnes and Weslye Saunders at tight end.
The offensive line is young and inexperienced, returning just two starters. They can't use that as an excuse though, as this unit needs to improve greatly for this team to get any better. Last year, the Gamecock O-Line gave up 39 sacks, more than any SEC team except Arkansas.
DEFENSE: This group is what led USC to that 7-6 record last year. They were the 13th ranked total defense and the 2nd ranked pass defense. This year could be more of the same. The team returns 6 starters, though it could have been 8 or 9 if not for some early departures to the NFL.
The line returns some names like juniors Ladi Ajiboye and Nathan Pepper, who were solid contributors last year. the linebacking corps will be led by none other than Eric Norwood. The All-SEC backed out of the NFL draft late and the Gamecocks couldn't be more excited. Norwood had 75 tackles and 9 sacks last season and should add to those totals this year. Rodney Paulk will take over for Thomson product Jasper Brinkley at MLB after redshirting last season.
The defensive backfield was decimated thanks to the early departures. Junior safety Chris Culliver is the only returning starter. He will be joined by a cast of freshmen and sophomores, looking to make their mark early.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Ryan Succop is gone after a solid career kicking for the Gamecocks. Stepping in at kicker could be punter Spencer Lanning. He has a strong leg but was inconsistent in the spring. If he struggles, Adam Yates could step in. Yates is expected to handle kickoffs regardless. Chris Culliver will handle returns.
9/3 @ NC State
9/12 @ Georgia
9/19 Florida Atlantic
10/3 SC State
10/17 @ Alabama
10/31 @ Tennessee
11/7 @ Arkansas
FINAL ANALYSIS: One has to wonder when the Steve Spurrier era will really begin at South Carolina. Ever since he has been in Columbia, he has never had a talented QB. This may be that year. If Garcia pans out to what everyone thought he would be when he was recruited, then USC will be a contender. But if he struggles, so will the offense, and in turn, the defense, who seemed to never leave the field last season. It's not the easiest start to the season with trips to Raleigh and Athens but if the Gamecocks can split those two games, I think that's a good sign of things to come. I think this team has a shot of really doing big things, as people are underestimating them.
MY PREDICTION: South Carolina 8-4
So there you go. What do you think? Let me know in the comments section below or shoot me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. And don't forget to check back tomorrow and Wednesday for the final two parts of my 2009 College Football Preview.
SUNDAY: Conference Predictions
TUESDAY: Clemson and GT Preview
WEDNESDAY: My final Top 25, Heisman and BCS predictions