To help college football fans get through the dog days of summer before conference media days launch the preseason festivities in mid-July, The Post and Courier is counting down the 12 most important South Carolina Gamecocks and 12 most important Clemson Tigers for 2013. The daily series continues today with No. 10 for each team and will conclude with the No. 1 players on July 7.
SOUTH CAROLINA’s No. 10
DYLAN THOMPSON, JUNIOR, QUARTERBACK
Before last season, nobody really knew much about Dylan Thompson. He was a lightly recruited, though not unimpressive looking player. Furman was the only other school that offered him a football scholarship. In his first two seasons at USC, the 6-3, 212-pound Thompson redshirted and then threw two passes while playing in four games in 2011.
Thrust into duty in last year’s opener at Vanderbilt, after Connor Shaw hurt his shoulder, Thompson looked lost. He threw three passes and completed none. The next week, Shaw was sidelined and Thompson carved up East Carolina’s porous defense with 330 passing yards. The following week, he diced another mediocre defense when he played the second half of a 49-6 win over Alabama-Birmingham.
He played in six of the next eight games, almost all in mop-up situations, and attempted 26 total passes. But in the regular season finale at Clemson, Thompson had to play all night because of Shaw’s foot injury. Thompson responded by announcing himself as a legitimate player. He completed 23 of 41 passes for 310 yards. In the Outback Bowl against Michigan, he came off the bench and threw the game-winning 32-yard touchdown pass with 11 seconds remaining.
So what now?
Shaw is a senior and missed spring practices while recovering from foot surgery. Coach Steve Spurrier has told his quarterbacks that both should expect to play meaningful snaps in 2013. Whether that will actually happen remains to be seen.
This August’s practices are enormous for Thompson. His performance in them – and whether Shaw can stay healthy for a full season – will determine his importance to the Gamecocks this fall. Shaw remains the No. 1 quarterback, but Thompson has already shown the coaches that he can provide value in big spots, if he is needed. While there are no guarantees for what that means about his role this season, Thompson is certainly in a more auspicious situation than he was last summer.
Previously: No. 12 free safety T.J. Gurley; No. 11 WR Damiere Byrd
COMING SATURDAY: No. 9 offensive tackle Brandon Shell
CLEMSON’S NO. 10
JORDAN LEGGETT, FRESHMAN, TIGHT END
Here’s a few things you ought to know about the relationship between Clemson and the tight end. A tight end has ranked among the team’s top three receiving leaders each of the past four years. No other ACC team, incumbent or incoming, can say that for just the past two years. With Tajh Boyd at quarterback, Clemson tight ends hauled in 21 touchdowns in 2011-12; the next-nearest ACC group is Syracuse’s 10 scores over the past two years combined, which doesn’t equal the Tigers’ total of 11 last fall.
So if you gave offensive coordinator Chad Morris the option of playing two-hand touch in the spring game and therefore not losing presumed starter Sam Cooper for the year to a torn ACL, he snatches the opportunity without blinking. Somebody’s got to be the next stud in line behind Michael Palmer, Dwayne Allen and Brandon Ford . Allen and Ford recorded eight TDs a piece in 2011 and 2012, respectively. The options are Porter-Gaud grad Stanton Seckinger, who’s really built more like a receiver, redshirt freshman Jay Jay McCullough, and freshman Jordan Leggett. Don’t underestimate the value of getting a head start on absorbing the complex playbook of Morris – who, by the way, was Leggett’s primary recruiter. He’s already got the proper body to pound in the ACC, so if he fine-tunes his route-running, look for Boyd to look for Leggett often in third-down and red-zone packages.
Previously: No. 12 defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, No. 11 linebacker Stephone Anthony
COMING SATURDAY: No. 9 offensive tackle Gifford Timothy