1. Markedly improve the offensive line
It's understandable that first-year offensive line coach Shawn Elliott would need some time to get his unit into working order. However, waiting isn't really an option for this particular team. It needs some decent line play, and it needs it now. The numbers are ones that every USC fan knows: last in the SEC in sacks allowed (37) and rushing yards (121.2 yards a game). So, what's the group going to do about it? It has experience. Everyone, except sophomore center T.J. Johnson, is a junior or older -- and Johnson might be the best of the bunch. Let's see how this group takes to Elliott's coaching and zone-blocking scheme. He claims it's simple. But will it be successful? Solid goals: Get in the top half of the league in sacks and rush yards.
2. Stephen Garcia takes ownership of job
Already the talk of two quarterbacks is taking off. Can Garcia, a redshirt junior, spike that chatter by seizing the job when the season finally does arrive? Surely there will be some sort of in-game learning curve for freshman Connor Shaw, even if he did arrive in January. Surely he can't be on the same level as Garcia, who has been in the offense for four seasons. Garcia has the ability and potential; it's just a matter of him putting that together. It's been a process, to be sure. But he seems to be closer to talent realization than ever before. He did have a pretty good year last year, remember. Line play and a running game would certainly help him. Balance does an offense good.
3. Defense holds up its end of the deal
Expectations are high for a defense that finished third in the SEC a year ago, one that returns everyone except for the record-setting Eric Norwood. There's talent and depth at every spot, more than any other season in recent memory. The secondary, in particular, has plenty of star potential. All that said, and as defensive head coach Ellis Johnson has pointed out, the Gamecocks now actually have to go out and do it. Offenses aren't going to automatically freak out and just cede yards, and the ball, to the Gamecocks' D. Speaking of the ball, the defensive backs have to create more turnovers, plainly and simply. Three picks in 2009 is way too low.
4. Lattimore is actually the real deal
South Carolina's backs, led by Kenny Miles and Brian Maddox, were serviceable a year ago. But, you know, serviceable isn't really going to cut it. The Gamecocks were giddy to keep top running back prospect Marcus Lattimore at home. Now is the time to see what he's got. Throughout camp, he has shown nothing to make anyone believe he can't immediately be a factor. He seems to have every good quality you'd want in a back. And, get this, he's humble. Odd characteristic in a highly thought of back. Lattimore wants 1,000 yards this season. If he gets there, South Carolina will have a good season. Don't bet against him.
5. Find a way to beat Georgia early
As any Gamecocks fan knows, the season's momentum shifts early, with the Georgia game. It's not everything (see: 2007), but it sure helps to have an early win against the Bulldogs. This is no must-win or anything for the Gamecocks, but it would certainly help to boost confidence and morale to beat Georgia this season. It can happen. USC gets the Bulldogs at home. USC gets the Bulldogs, who will improve, early. That loss in Athens last year still stings, because the Gamecocks had the game in their grasp. Making good in the afternoon game this September would keep the hope of the SEC East alive. Spurrier needs to continue to show he's making moves in the division by occasionally knocking off both Georgia and Florida, starting with Georgia.
6. Find a way to close strong
Clearly, 2007 is the season you point to regarding late-season collapses at South Carolina. Well, 2008 wasn't much better. Hanging with Florida and beating Clemson gave 2009 a better feel, until the bowl debacle in Birmingham. Losing is one thing; getting your rear handed to you is another, entirely. The Gamecocks have the talent to actually improve as the season goes along. Any sort of tailspin would be unacceptable, unless injuries were part of the equation. A byproduct of this one is beating the teams you should beat. The late-season games against Tennessee and Arkansas, both in Columbia, are very important in determining what sort of season this is.