To help get you through college football’s slow days of late June and early July -- before conference media days launch the preseason festivities -- we’re counting down the 12 most important South Carolina Gamecocks and 12 most important Clemson Tigers for 2013. One Gamecock and one Tiger every day, so you can spend part of your summer studying the players who will make a difference for your team come autumn.
CLEMSON’S NO. 3 – SPENCER SHUEY, SENIOR, LINEBACKER
If you’ve been paying attention to this Clemson countdown, you’ve noticed a boatload of juniors with heavy-duty responsibilities for the coming year. Six juniors and no seniors to date. In this age of early draft declarations and one-and-dones, strong senior leadership is a criminally underrated merit. That’s on and off the football field.
Besides the obvious senior leader suiting up for the Tigers this fall, look no further than Spencer Shuey to fill this role. Guys who have logged 36 career games garner respect by default, and Shuey has waited patiently for a starring role; he was a reserve 29 times before his first career start, last Oct. 20 vs. Virginia Tech, and he was outstanding (15 tackles, 2.5 for a loss.) The safety he made against Georgia Tech gave him that opportunity, and Shuey followed up with three more double-digit tackle efforts in the second half of 2012. A linebacker’s job can succinctly be summed in one word – tackling – and Shuey’s got to excel at that task to hold down ACC and SEC offenses. He’s the Tigers’ most important defender entering 2013.
South Carolina NO. 3 MIKE DAVIS, SOPHOMORE, RUNNING BACK
He is the younger brother of former Clemson star running back James Davis. And in his second year at USC, he is replacing one of the most impactful players in school history, Marcus Lattimore. But Mike Davis doesn’t need to be either his brother or Lattimore in 2013.
He does, however, need to be both durable and productive if the Gamecocks are to have a legitimate offense. Davis is powerful and squat – 5-9 and 215 pounds – but has yet to test himself over a full college season. He ran 52 times for 275 yards last season, but his most carries in a game were six, 12 and 13.
Davis certainly has the skills to succeed in college. He was ranked the No. 7 running back and No. 63 overall recruit by Rivals in the Class of 2012. Since coming to USC, he has made impressive strides in his pass blocking, which was an issue for him last season. He does not lack for confidence, which will be important because fans’ memories of Lattimore’s success are still fresh, and unfair comparisons are inevitable.
Last season, USC could lean on senior Kenny Miles and Davis when Lattimore went down with a season-ending knee injury for the second straight year. And the Gamecocks went 11-2 for the second straight year despite ranking No. 84 nationally in total offense, compared to No. 73 in 2011. So they don’t need an elite offense to win. They’ve proven that.
But this season, the tailback options behind Davis are Brandon Wilds and Kendric Salley. Wilds, a sophomore, filled in admirably for Lattimore in 2011, but he does not have the breakaway speed required for an every-down Southeastern Conference tailback. And he hasn’t played in a game since 2011, because he redshirted last season. Salley’s first year in college was 2012, and he redshirted.
If Davis has to miss an extended stretch – especially if he proves himself to be a viable option, which he seems to be – then the Gamecocks could be in trouble without him.