2015 Gamecocks Preview In 2015 South Carolina fields, what is more than likely, the most talented team in school history. USC has several big name players on both sides of the ball, as well as underrated and big-play-capable special teams. Coach Petersen is back in his sixth year as head coach for the Gamecocks, posting a 53-14 record in his short time in Columbia, which puts him in second place for most wins all time by a USC coach, just 11 wins shy of tying the all-time wins record set by Rex Enright (64-69-7). Coach Petersen could feasible tie the record this year as he has posted an average of 11 wins per season, but he said he isn’t even thinking about the record. There are eight returning starters on each side of the ball so the Gamecocks should not suffer from a lack of experience this year as they did at time in 2014, that along with some changes and a faster pace should help the Gamecocks get to the next level this season. The Gamecocks have one of the most challenging schedules in the nation and getting back to the SEC Title game is going to be a taunting task as they will have to face #15 Georgia, #2 Alabama, #8 Auburn, #1 Florida, and the newly lead Tennessee Volunteers in conference along with the likes of #3 North Carolina, #16 Wisconsin, and rival Clemson out of conference. If USC can make it through this gauntlet and make it to Atlanta at seasons end they will certainly deserve it. Offense The Gamecocks explosive offense is led by Sophomore Quarterback Antonio Matthews who is coming off of a year in which he threw for 2700 yards and 19 touchdowns and led the team in rushing with over 600 yards due to Jason Byrd getting hurt just before the midpoint in the season. Matthews struggled at times last year, but showed glimpses of greatness and this year he is much improved and the coaching staff is going to put him in the best position to succeed. In the offseason the coaching staff visited several different schools to get their insights on the QB running game and has added a few wrinkles to the offense this year to allow Matthews to show off his running ability. Jason Byrd and Cornelius Carroll are both back at the HB position, as they combined to go for over 1000 yards rushing. Byrd ran for over 400 yards in just 5 games when his season ended due to a broken shoulder. The Sophomore will look to carry the load this year and he should be a force to be reckoned with. USC has several good wide outs but other than Michael Davis, none are great. Michael Davis, Junior, however is a very special receiver. He has great speed and quickness and has maybe the best hands in the country. He should see a lot of attention leaving openings for George Griffin as well as some of the USC tight ends. The USC TEs are among the best in the nation and they complement each other perfectly. Senior Jonathan Perry has been a four-year starter, but his playing time dipped last year and will continue to dip this year thanks to Sophomore Anthony Ross. Perry is a great blocker and when he is in the game he is essentially an extra lineman that can catch. On the other hand Ross is like a better blocking receiver. He has great receiver type skills and he can block well. Due to the lack of depth a WR Ross could see some time split out as a WR in 4 and 5 wide sets. The Gamecock offensive line is one of the best lines in Coach Petersen’s time at USC. The group returns three out of five starters and the other two saw a good amount of playing time. The improved offensive line should open up bigger and better running lanes along with giving Matthews ample time to throw the ball. Possibly the best thing about this group of linemen is that they are all back next year, along with most of the offense. The USC offense will have 1 freshman, 6 sophomores, 3 juniors, and 1 senior so the future for the Gamecock’s offense looks bright. Defense 2014 marked a year of great improvement for the South Carolina defense, as they had maybe their best season under Coach Petersen. For the first time in Coach Petersen’s five seasons the defense didn’t give 1000 yards total rushing. The defense still struggled mightily to defend the pass so in 2015 Coach Petersen has called for a change, switching his defense from the multiple to the 3-3-5. The hope is that the added DB on the field will help against the pass and unique blitzes will get to the QB quicker. The Gamecock’s have a strong front three that features two big, powerful defensive ends, Junior Michael Johnson and Senior Tanner Washington. Both guys are experienced players and should be key pieces to a good defense. USC will need great play from its defensive tackle and the combination of Robert Alford and Jack Smith should be able to get the job done. This could be the weakest spot on the Gamecocks defense but with great linebackers behind them they should fair fine. The linebackers could be among the best in the nation thanks mostly to fourth-year starter William Parks and third-year starter Ken Bowen, who have been great players since they first walked on campus and are potentially All-Americans. Those two along with Freshman Kyle Porter should have no trouble stopping the run as well as helping in the passing game. The secondary is a mixture of veteran and young players. Two seniors will take up the Cornerback position, Joseph Booker and Corey Hardy. Hardy was being redshirted last year but due to technical difficulties was unable to and didn’t contribute much to the team, and Booker who was an All-American as a freshman missed seven games last year due to injury and looks to return to his All-American form this year. The Strong Safeties lack a great deal of experience but by no means do they lack talent. Sophomore Drew Parker and Freshman Will Townsend will be taking the SS spots, Parker was the starting SS last season while Townsend was redshirting and he will get his first start this year against Georgia. At Free Safety is the spectacular John Cook. Cook led the team in tackles last year and had three interceptions, and will look to be even better in his sophomore season. Cook has all the tools and will be a great leader and centerpiece for the new defense. Overall the defense should be the best it has been at South Carolina in a long time and a great defense wins championships. Special Teams The South Carolina special teams should be very good in all phases. Kicker John Holt is back for his junior year and his strong leg will be looking to recapture the Lou Groza Award that he won as a freshman. Freshman Steve Cooper, who isn’t going to blow anybody away with his skills, will handle the punting duties but he will be good enough to get the job done. The return duties will be handled by Michael Davis and John Cook more than likely, and their speed and agility should lead to a few big returns. USC will have a very good kickoff unit that possesses a lot of talent and speed. The coaching staff has decided to put some of their best players on the unit to avoid giving up any big plays.