With three of the last four Coaches' Trophies currently taking up real estate in Tuscaloosa, Ala., a lot of the attention this offseason will be given to the Alabama Crimson Tide.
For good reason.
Head coach Nick Saban has achieved something that no other head coach in college football can claim—a dynasty in the ultra-competitive Bowl Championship Series (BCS) era.
But the SEC isn't just a one-man show.
Texas A&M will likely land in the preseason Top Five thanks to a dynamic offense led by Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, LSU will look to reload after suffering a ton of roster attrition over the offseason and Georgia will look to three-peat as SEC East champions.
But another team in the SEC could spoil the party, and it's a team that nobody is talking about—the South Carolina Gamecocks.
You know, that program that has posted back-to-back 11-win seasons and finished in the Top 10 in each of the last two seasons?
The Gamecocks are set up to make a big-time run at the SEC Championship.
Sure, running back Marcus Lattimore is gone. But Mike Davis and Brandon Wilds to pick up the slack. Both of those players have played well when given the chance over the last two seasons, and head coach Steve Spurrier has been impressed with each of them this spring.
"Brandon Wilds and Mike Davis both have had an excellent winter conditioning season, Spurrier said in March. (h/t GamecocksOnline.com) "Brandon Wilds is faster than he's ever been. He's really fit. Those two backs are ready. I have huge confidence in both those guys."
The dynamic quarterback combination of Dylan Thompson and Connor Shaw will allow the Head Ball Coach to play musical quarterbacks with two players who both have star-potential, but excel in different aspects of the game.
It's that versatility that will take the Gamecock offense to the next level, even without Lattimore and former wide receiver Ace Sanders.
Defensively, there are some questions. Gone are seven seniors off the defense, but some guy named Jadeveon Clowney will still line up on one side of the defensive line. Perhaps you've heard of him? Michigan's Vincent Smith surely has.
A good defense starts up front, and whether it's Clowney making the stops or someone else like defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles benefitting from the attention paid to Clowney, the Gamecocks' defensive line will be effective.
That will filter through the entire defense. The linebacker spot is an issue in Columbia, but Victor Hampton and Jimmy Legree will comprise a talented secondary which will thrive on whatever pressure is generated up front.
Plus, the schedule sets up for a title run in Columbia.
The Gamecocks have beaten Georgia three straight seasons, and the game with the Bulldogs in Athens was moved back to Week 2 after being played in October last season. That will please Spurrier, who was disappointed that the game moved last season.
"I sort of always liked playing them that second game because you could always count on them having two or three key players suspended," he told ESPN.com.
Cross-division games at Arkansas and vs. Mississippi State are a welcomed change from the last two seasons. South Carolina lost games to Auburn and LSU out of the SEC West in 2011 and 2012, respectively.
The Gamecocks also get a bye week before hosting Florida on Nov. 16 in what will be the SEC finale for both teams. Will that be the de facto SEC East title game? If South Carolina can take down Georgia on Week 2, it certainly is a possibility.
If you're looking for a dark-horse SEC title contender out of the SEC, look no further than South Carolina. Only the Gamecocks shouldn't be a dark horse.
It has taken longer than Spurrier expected, but he has built the program into a legitimate title contender. The 2013 season may be the season that the Gamecocks break through that glass ceiling for the first time in program history.
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