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January 28, 2012
Forty-four practices and seven months of waiting stand between South Carolina and the 2012 season opener at Vanderbilt on Aug. 30. The anticipation and expectations for the upcoming season will be off-the-charts when August finally arrives.
Without a doubt, the 2012 USC roster will feature plenty of talented players, both offensively and defensively. Who are some of players that should - no, will - earn All-SEC honors in 2012?
1. Marcus Lattimore: Feel lucky? Bet the house and mortgage that Lattimore will make All-SEC in 2012. Sure, he must first complete his rehabilitation from November knee surgery before any discussion of conference honors moves beyond the implausible. But the easiest prediction any college football analyst will make over the next five months is Lattimore will be ready to go when pre-season camp opens in early August. Lattimore'e legendary work ethic will kick in, if it hasn't already. The Byrnes High product is highly respected around the SEC. He was involved in the Heisman Trophy discussion before his 2011 season ended prematurely at Mississippi State. He averaged 116.9 yards in the seven games. With Trent Richardson gone from Alabama, Lattimore steps into the role of the best known running back in the SEC. Early prediction: Lattimore will have a monster season in 2012.
2. Jadeveon Clowney: What's next for the SEC Freshman of the Year as voted by the league's coaches? Taking his game to the next level. He ranked among the SEC leaders in sacks (8), tackles for loss (12) and fumbles forced (5) in 2011. Better practice habits, a better understanding of what it takes to compete in the SEC and a little boost from defensive line coach Brad Lawing will help Clowney make the river crossing from a highly-touted freshman who fulfilled expectations to turning into a dominant player in the SEC. First task? Preparing to become an every down player, which means he must make the commitment to improve his conditioning and technique. If he does that, and I think he will, watch out.
3. Devin Taylor: I've asked this question before: will Clowney and Taylor become the nation's top defensive end duo in 2012? They should as long as they play up to their abilities. How many other teams have a 6-foot-6 monster on one side (Clowney) and a 6-foot-7 praying mantis on the other (Taylor)? Not many. Taylor emerged in 2010 with 46 tackles, 7.5 sacks and 13.0 TFL and was voted first-team All-SEC by multiple national media organizations, including the Associated Press. This past season, he played second fiddle to Melvin Ingram on the defensive line and his numbers dipped slightly top 42 tackles, 6.0 sacks and 8.5 TFL. By any measure, still a pretty good year. With Ingram now trying to make his mark in the NFL, Taylor and Clowney will be unleashed. Watch out.
4. D.J. Swearinger: LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu received the lion's share of the media attention this past season"'Honey Badger"), but Swearinger could give him a run for the title of best defensive back in the SEC in 2012. For my money, there is no better free safety in the conference than Swearinger. The fact he didn't earn either first team or second team all-SEC honors after finishing with 80 tackles, three interceptions and three pass breakups is laughable. I have yet to see another safety with a greater physical presence than Swearinger. With 165 career tackles in three years, Swearinger should easily conclude his career with well over 200 career tackles.
5. Ace Sanders: Who finished second on USC in number of receptions in 2011? Sanders. The 5-foot-7 speedster from Bradenton, Fla., grabbed the slot receiver job and ran with it - literally - by averaging 13.3 yard per reception. He had a solid Capital One Bowl with three receptions for 45 yards, including a long of 23 yards. As his knowledge of the offense grew, so did his production. The thought here is Sanders will lock down the starting job at slot receiver, and combine with Bruce Ellington and others to give the Gamecocks a powerful combination at the position. With Alshon Jeffery no longer here, Sanders has been presented with an opportunity to make the jump to the next level. With 44 practices between now and the start of the season on Aug. 30, I think he will.
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