Countdown to kickoff: South Carolina preview

South Carolina is going through a transition year with new playmakers at quarterback, running back and wide receiver. The Gamecocks, who went 7-6 last year, do return several quality players in their front seven, including star pass-rushing outside linebacker Eric Norwood.
Game 1: South Carolina
Thursday Sept. 3 • Carter-Finley Stadium • Raleigh, N.C.

Article Continues Below
All-Time Series record: Tied 26-26-4
Last Meeting: South Carolina 34, NC State 0 (Aug. 28, 2008, at Columbia, S.C.)
Head Coach: Steve Spurrier, 28-22 at South Carolina (5th year), 170-62-2 career (20th year)
2008 In Review: 7-6 overall, 4-4 in SEC (T-3rd/East)
Last Postseason Appearance: Lost to Iowa 31-10 in the 2009 Outback Bowl
Total Wins 2004-08: 34 (6-7-8-6-7)
2009 Preseason National Rankings: No. 34 by Rivals.com, No. 36 by Lindy's, No. 40 by Sporting News, No. 51 by Phil Steele's, No. 54 by Athlon
Returning Starters: 11 (4 offensive, 6 defensive, 1 specialist)
Offensive Star: Soph. QB Stephen Garcia — The Gamecocks are unproven on offense, which will put the pressure on Garcia to lead them this year. The 6-2, 219-pounder started three out of the eight games he played in, tossed for 832 yards and six touchdowns, but also had eight interceptions. He went 14 of 26 for a career-high 215 yards, one touchdown and one INT in a start against LSU last year. SEC coaches voted him third-team preseason quarterback in the conference, and Phil Steele College Preview magazine has him No. 44 nationally at the position.
Defensive Star: Sr. OLB Eric Norwood — He has earned first-team All-SEC honors the last two years. The 6-1, 252-pound Norwood had 75 tackles, nine sacks, 14.5 tackles for loss and one pass broken up last year. The former defensive end has 22 career sacks, and is South Carolina's all-time leader with 43 tackles for loss, and has 174 career tackles. Norwood was a preseason first-team All-SEC choice by the coaches going into this season, and Phil Steele College Preview magazine has him No. 3 nationally at the position.
Notable: South Carolina has been bowl eligible for five consecutive years, the longest streak in school history for the modern era, and the five straight non-losing seasons is the longest stretch since the Gamecocks went seven from 1928-34 … South Carolina hired five new positional coaches and a new strength and conditioning coach this offseason … Three juniors elected to enter the NFL Draft — tight end Jared Cook, safety Emanuel Cook and cornerback Captain Munnerlyn … The Gamecocks return 21 lettermen on offense, 17 on defense and two on special teams. The Gamecocks have only seven scholarship seniors … South Carolina ranked 96th in the country in scoring last year, the running game averaged an anemic 2.9 yards per carry (417 attempts for 1,223 yards), and the offensive line allowed 39 sacks. The team was also minus-11 on turnovers.
Overview: Spurrier has been struggling to turn the corner at South Carolina, and if he is going to do it this season he will need to find a consistent quarterback, and Garcia has been anything but so far in his short Gamecocks' career. Spurrier also must find a running game, with a pair of running backs who had impressive prep credentials, junior Brian Maddox and true freshman Jarvis Giles. Junior fullback Patrick DiMarco, sophomore wide receiver Jason Barnes and three offensive linemen — junior left guard Terrence Campbell, senior center Garrett Anderson and junior left tackle Jarriel King — return with starting experience. Junior tight end Weslye Saunders, who had 16 catches for 214 yards and three scores last year, and senior wide receiver Moe Brown will have expanded roles.
Defensively, the Gamecocks suffered some losses and must replace most of their secondary, but caught a break when Norwood, their star outside linebacker, decided to return to South Carolina after originally indicating he would turn pro. Three starters return on the defensive line, which should be the strength of the defense, especially when Norwood goes after the quarterback. Junior defensive end Cliff Matthews, and defensive tackles Ladi Ajiboye, a junior, and senior Nathan Pepper, combined for 5.5 sacks, which will need to improve. Senior strong safety Darian Stewart anchors the secondary, and had 64 tackles, two sacks, nine tackles for loss and eight passes broken up. He'll be joined by junior free safety Chris Culliver, who played at Garner (N.C.) High, and had 60 tackles and three interceptions last year. Culliver also averaged 24.1 yards per kick return and junior punter Spencer Lanning averaged 42.1 yards per kick.
Returning Leaders
Passing: Soph. QB Stephen Garcia (65-122, 832 yards, 6 TD, 8 INT)
Rushing: Soph. QB Stephen Garcia (70 carries, 198 yards, 2 TD)
Receiving: Sr. WR Moe Brown (30 catches, 391 yards, 1 TD)
Tackles: Sr. OLB Eric Norwood (75)
Sacks: Sr. OLB Eric Norwood (9)
Int: Jr. FS Chris Culliver (3)
2009 Schedule
Date Opponent '08 Result
Sept. 3 at NC State W, 34-0
Sept. 12 at Georgia L, 14-7
Sept. 19 Florida Atlantic —
Sept. 24 Mississippi W, 31-24
Oct. 3 South Carolina State —
Oct. 10 Kentucky W, 24-17
Oct. 17 at Alabama —
Oct. 24 Vanderbilt L, 24-17
Oct. 31 at Tennessee W, 27-6
Nov. 7 at Arkansas W, 34-21
Nov. 14 Florida L, 56-6
Nov. 28 Clemson L, 31-14