Record: 10-2, 6-2 SEC
It’s not often that you start the year with South Carolina being the overwhelming favorite to win the SEC Eastern Division. Well, that’s exactly what happened after the Gamecocks won the East for the first time in 2010. With game-changers on offense and defense returning, South Carolina also fit into the category of being a dark horse for the national championship.
Things didn’t go as planned. Troubled quarterback Stephen Garcia didn’t last long and was dismissed after six games. When he was in, he wasn’t great. The mistakes that plagued him during his career returned and he was benched in favor of Connor Shaw after a 16-13 loss to Auburn. Garcia’s dismissal came a week later.
Shaw won six games, but South Carolina suffered a major loss when early Heisman Trophy candidate Marcus Lattimore went down with an ACL tear in the middle of October. Before his injury, he was the SEC’s top rusher. Former redshirt candidate Brandon Wilds filled in and was a pleasant surprise.
South Carolina’s offense struggled for most of the sason, but the defense stayed pretty consistent after a rough start. Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson called his defense out before the Vanderbilt game, and from then on, the Gamecocks defense turned stout, finishing the year fourth in the SEC in total defense.
Steve Spurrier did one of his finest coaching jobs, as the Gamecocks won 10 games for only the second time in school history and beat rival Clemson for the third consecutive year.
Offensive MVP: Shaw. The Gamecocks won six of their last seven games with Shaw starting. With top receiver Alshon Jeffery blanketed most of the time, Shaw usually turned to his feet, finishing the year with 483 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground. He threw for 1,218 yards and 12 scores.
Defensive MVP: Defensive end Melvin Ingram. He was a scoring machine to start the year, recording three touchdowns, including a 68-yard run on a fake punt. He also had 44 tackles, including 13.5 for loss, 8.5 sacks, and three takeaways.
Turning point: The Gamecocks’ loss to Auburn on Oct. 1 might have cost South Carolina the SEC East. That was a game the Gamecocks should have won, but the offensive held them back. That was also the last time we saw Garcia, ushering in the Shaw era.
What’s next: The ninth-ranked Gamecocks are headed to the Capital One Bowl to play No. 20 Nebraska. South Carolina’s offense ended the season with momentum and the Gamecocks hope to keep it going against the Cornhuskers’ 36th-ranked defense.