To help get you through college football's slow days of early July -- before conference media days launch the preseason festivities -- we've counted down the 10 most important South Carolina Gamecocks and 10 most important Clemson Tigers for 2014. 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.
SOUTH CAROLINA'S NO. 1 - DYLAN THOMPSON, SENIOR, QUARTERBACK
Connor Shaw could not be farther from Columbia. He's spending the summer 600 miles straight up on the map, near the Canadian border. Cleveland is Shaw's home now. A void is left in his wake.
It's never easy replacing a legendary quarterback. Ask John Brantley, who replaced Tim Tebow at Florida. Ask Garrett Gilbert, who followed Colt McCoy at Texas. Chances are you've never heard of either quarterback, and for good reason.
South Carolina senior Dylan Thompson is trying to avoid that trap. Thompson enters this fall - his first as a full-time starter - shouldering the burden of expectations. He's the most important player on the field, if for no other reason than he's the quarterback. Even more, Thompson is the quarterback who will replace THE QUARTERBACK. He must stand up to the pressure, not wilt under it.
There are plenty of reasons to believe Thompson is up to the challenge. As a backup, he proved capable of leading South Carolina's offense, even in hostile environments. Thompson led the Gamecocks to a win at Clemson in 2012. He came off the bench to throw the game-winning pass in the Gamecocks' Outback Bowl win over Michigan. He led them to a win at Fiesta Bowl-champion Central Florida in 2013.
Thompson will be a different quarterback than Shaw. His skillset contrasts with the visions of Shaw scrambling downfield, chewing up yardage with his legs. Thompson will be a pocket passer, and a capable one at that. In his career, Thompson has already tossed for 1,827 yards, 14 touchdowns and five interceptions - as a backup.
Of course, there's peace of mind knowing you're not alone. In years past, Shaw's presence was Thompson's comfort, a security blanket in case things got bad. He'll no longer have that reassurance. All alone, the keys to South Carolina's program is in his hands.
How Thompson handles the responsibility will dictate what direction South Carolina's season heads.
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