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Cock 'n Fire: Not really. I think you might be a bit optimistic on the record forecast, but that's probably just the Gamecock in me. I was impressed that you pointed out Cory Boyd, who I think is probably one of the most underrated players on the team, just because people think Spurrier teams "don't run." They do, it's just that the passing offense when he was in Florida was so prolific it overshadowed everything else. I would point out -- and this is a small thing -- that Spurrier seems to be hesitant to label Kenny McKinley the "go-to guy" this year, but I think that'll take care of itself one way or the other.
Third Down Draw: Honestly, your analysis was pretty spot on. I clarified a few things about Blake Mitchell and the RBs in the comments on the offense the other day, and the only other thing I'd like to add is that although he is a freshman, Chris Culliver has amazing speed and looks like he could be the deep threat at WR in the offense. And Ryan Succop is the man.
2. What is the biggest issue of concern for the offense this season?
Cock 'n Fire: Three things: The offensive line, the offensive line and the offensive line. They weren't great last year until Spurrier begrudgingly put in Syvelle Newton to give the O-line time to fix itself. And once everything looked like it was coming together nicely, we lost three starters. What really worries me is we lost all three interior starters. That can, I'm sure I don't have to say, lead to all kinds of trouble. There is the slight chance of a Mitchell meltdown, but the biggest concern is the line. And if the line can't contain the rush, the chances of Mitchell throwing the ball into the arms of an unsuspecting defender become greater. The guy has little if any pocket presence.
Third Down Draw: Offensive line play, no doubt about it. Blake simply can't do anything without a solid O line. That's the reason he was benched last season--because the line was so bad he had no time to make plays. Besides that, I'm very confident in the rest of the offense.
3. And for the defense?
Cock 'n Fire: I'm sort of on the fence between the line (which is deep, but young) and the secondary. For all the optimism about Captain Munnerlyn in particular, I know we're not up to where we were back when we had Joseph and Simpson back there. So I'll go with the secondary. Overall, though, I feel pretty good about the defense.
Third Down Draw: Uhh, injuries? The defense is going to be good, I just don't know how good yet. Coach Spurrier said this about the defense: "Our o-line doesn't want to block them. Let's wait and see if other o-lines in the SEC feel the same way before we start talking about how good the defense is." Or something to that effect.
4. What is the bare minimum that would have to happen for you to consider this a successful season?
Cock 'n Fire: Eight regular-season wins and a better bowl than the Liberty. That's the bare minimum, though. We played much better last year at 8-5 than we did the previous year at 7-5 -- all the bounces went our way in 2005 and went against us in 2006. So I say we need to do one win better -- at least -- in the regular season to show that we're really making progress. But I expect more.
Third Down Draw: 7-6...basically any bowl win. I'd really like more than that (8-4 would be nice, your 9-3 prediction would be GREAT), but you have to remember, if we win a bowl in 2007, that will be the fifth bowl win in Gamecock history, and four of them have been in the 21st century.
5. With Spurrier at the helm, do you personally expect a regular finish atop the east, or is getting to a bowl and beating Clemson enough?
Cock 'n Fire: I don't think anybody can expect, at this point, to have a regular finish atop the east. Every time I think UGA's going down hill, Mark Richt proves me wrong. (Which is way the fact that I'm not hot on Georgia this year bothers me in a way.) Florida's back under Meyer, though I think Tennessee is adrift. Kentucky is on the way up, and I wouldn't be surprised if Bobby Johnson has Vandy bowl-eligible either this year or next. Though I don't think Vandy will ever compete for the top spot, I do expect the other five teams in the division to do so every once in a while. But I do expect us to compete regularly, and I think most SC fans do as well. (Don't get me wrong -- more than 1-out-of-5 against Clemson would be nice.)
Third Down Draw:I want more out of the Gamecocks, but I just don't know if it's there for the taking. We have to play Georgia, Florida and Tennessee every year, and they've pretty much owned us since we joined the SEC. We're better than we were ten years ago, no doubt about it, but to climb up to the UGA, UT and UF level is another thing entirely. But if this means that we can start beating Clemson on a regular basis, I'll gladly take that for now so those pretentious Clempson fans can shut up for a second.
6. In that same vein, what's the general feeling among Gamecock fans about football success?
Cock 'n Fire: They expect it. An odd thing happened last year -- apart from the Georgia game, I never got the feeling the Gamecocks were out of a game until it was over. That might not seem odd to someone coming from a school with actual tradition, but it is different for SC. I'll never forget in Holtz' last year, when SC took a 16-0 lead over Georgia, the TV guys noted that a dread seemed to be hovering over the stadium even though SC was in the lead. They were right -- even watching the game at home, I assumed something was going to go wrong -- and the Gamecocks went on to lose that game. That feeling isn't there anymore. Fans actually think the team can compete against anyone in the league. And Spurrier is starting to whip the fans into shape as well as the players -- chiding those who applauded at the near-win against Auburn, for example. I know the word "swagger" is meaningless and overused, but something like that is taking hold at South Carolina -- and it's in the fans as well as the players.
Third Down Draw: I am not from SC. I visited the school in the spring of 2000 and caught an open practice. Dropped balls seemed to be the theme. I heard a joke and it goes like this: Carolina Gamecock fooball: 100 years of mediocrity and two worse than that (in reference to the 1998-99 1-21 stretch). So I'd say that some people have their feet firmly planted on the ground but want a lot more out of the team. And then there are the insane Gamecock fans that you see running around the internet, talking MNCs every spring. I do not know what team these people are watching, because it's certainly not the same Gamecocks that I am watching.
7. What's the most memorable SC game that you personally witnessed (in person or on TV) and why?
Cock 'n Fire: The Ole Miss game in 2003, because we got hosed. No, seriously. The most memorable game I ever witnessed beginning-to-end was the Outback Bowl in 2002, which I did attend. It was great, great football -- even though we almost blew it -- and it made you feel almost like we were onto something special. Then Lou released his inner Hayes, and we were screwed. I only saw part of our 2000 victory over Georgia and Quincy "Heisman" Carter, but I remember that game because after seeing the goalposts go down on TV, I left my dorm room and walked toward the stadium. I grabbed onto one of the posts and have a piece of it to this day. I'm not sure if that makes me a freeloading thief or an enterprising fan, but it's one of my most prized possessions.
Third Down Draw: To go off of one of my answers earlier, I think the best game I saw was in 2000 when they broke the 21 game losing streak against New Mexico State. The atmosphere was pretty electric because everyone knew that it was ending. The State newspaper's sport section had a front page article about how to rip down a goalpost. This was also my first Carolina game ever. My friends were on top of the goalpost when a photographer took a picture of it for The State newspaper and now they're up there forever. Those first four wins in a row, including two over ranked opponents (UGA and an-at-the-time good Mississippi State) basically made me into a Gamecock fan. I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
And that 2001 comeback against Alabama wasn't bad, either.
8. Burnt Orange Nation recently did a post about players from rival teams they wish played for the Longhorns. If you could take one player from a regular opponent that would replace someone you aren't sold on on your own team, who would it be and why?
Cock 'n Fire: Percy Harvin for any of the wide receivers except Kenny McKinley. And the reason is that I love that kid, in the totally platonic sports sense of the word. I'm just not sure about the young guys who are going to have to step it up at receiver. That's not to say they won't be good -- just that I'm not sure they will be. As for Harvin, I think he's got Heisman potential. (I know, WRs never win, but still...) He can do it all, and he can do it all well. I see him as almost (and here I go risking some credibility, but I'll say it) as a WR version of Reggie Bush, just because of his ability to turn anything into a big play. That's just magnified in Meyer's offense, where they can get him the ball anywhere on the field. Scary scary scary for any other team in the East.
Third Down Draw: The entire Gators O-line. With that, we could be very dangerous.
Big thanks to both bloggers for their responses, and be sure to check them both out regularly. Next week: LSU.