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December 7, 2013

Rush's Roundtable

In this special feature, Gamecock Central's football insiders answer five questions about the Gamecocks.

1. Which bowl game do you think South Carolina would benefit most from?

JOSH LOW: I don't think it really matters if it is a choice between the Capital One Bowl and Cotton Bowl. South Carolina just needs to go to a good bowl against a good opponent and have a chance to get win number 11. It seems pretty clear that the fan base would like to go to the Cotton Bowl. I can understand that because of the venue and the likelihood of playing a Top 10 team like Baylor. I would lean towards Cotton as well but both bowls are good opportunities for the Gamecocks.

AVERY WILKS: South Carolina would benefit most from going to the Cotton Bowl. It would be a chance to play at an incredible venue against a big-time college football program like Oklahoma (who wouldn't love a Spurrier vs. Stoops matchup?) or Texas, either of which would help South Carolina in terms of national exposure. It would also be a nice change of pace from beating Big Ten teams in Florida every postseason; the Gamecocks have already been there and done that.

RON AIKEN: I've been a fan and admirer of the Cotton Bowl all my life, and I would go nuts to see USC there. Period. Been a long-time dream of mine, so it's an absolute no-brainer for me and for the USC athletic program to go there for the first time. Add another first to the Steve Spurrier era? Sign me up twice.

CHRIS CLARK: As strange as it sounds, if South Carolina could "slip" to the Cotton Bowl that may be the ideal situation for the program. The fan base seems to be very excited about the prospect of traveling out west to a new bowl. The caveat here is that it's a matchup with a potentially high-powered offensive Big 12 team. The most important thing in the bowl is to get in a good one and to get a win. If the Gamecocks could get into the Cotton and beat a Baylor or Oklahoma State, it could be a statement win for the program and also attain an 11-win season for the third straight season.

2. What players do you think took a big step forward this season and are on track to have a big season next year?

JOSH LOW: Shaq Roland immediately jumps out to me for the offense. He did have a good start to the season and then the suspension hurt him. I've been saying that ever since he was entered as a starter for the Mississippi State game, it was like a light bulb went off. He didn't put up great stats the last four games but the impact he made was felt in a big way. He showed the true potential he has. I think he could develop into a big-time receiver threat for the Gamecocks next season. I think there are several players you could point to on the defensive side of the ball. Gerald Dixon, Skai Moore, Sharrod Golightly and Chaz Elder are the ones that stand out to me. That is likely four starters next season that the defense will be counting on to have good seasons.

AVERY WILKS: On defense, Skai Moore and Sharrod Golightly cemented themselves into starting roles during the second half of the year. Moore looks to have the potential to be a leader on defense for the next three (or just two) years, and Golightly began to show a nose for the football that makes up for his diminutive size at the Spur position. On offense, Shaq Roland and, obviously, Mike Davis took big strides this season. Roland established himself as a big-play receiver and a starter, and Davis improved on a two touchdown, 275-yard freshman season to become a legitimate Heisman candidate heading into 2014.

RON AIKEN: Pharoh Cooper, Shaq Roland (though his development has been slower than anticipated), Skai Moore, Phillip Dukes, Kelsey Griffin, Clayton Stadnik, Chaz Elder.

CHRIS CLARK: On offense, I would have to go with Shaq Roland. After his early-season suspension and a period of getting acclimated again he really started showing his ability after a two-touchdown performance against Mississippi State. Roland has speed, size, is a good route runner and has great hands. He's the most naturally talented receiver on the Gamecock roster and if he can put it together, could be poised for a big season next year. This offseason will be a big one for him. Defensively, I'm going with Skai Moore. As just a true freshman, he was one of the best players on a Gamecock defense that is as of today Top 15 in scoring defense and third in the SEC. He does not play like a true freshman and has a strong work ethic. If he can spend the offseason adding some bulk and strength, he is another player that could garner a bunch of attention next season.

3. Who are some players that this will be a big offseason for? Who are some players that need to take the next step this offseason?

JOSH LOW: The position where South Carolina will need players to take the next step is cornerback. Ahmad Christian and Rico McWilliams are the only two returning cornerbacks that have game experience. They need to have big offseasons. Darius English is another player that comes to mind. A big step for him is to just keep adding weight and strength. South Carolina will be returning a lot of players on the offensive side of the ball so there will be plenty of experience. I will say that Kwinton Smith needs to take the next step at receiver. He will be entering his redshirt sophomore year and needs to start realizing some of the potential that he has.

AVERY WILKS: This offseason will be crucial for several wide receivers and for some young players on defense. With the entire receiving corps coming back next season, it's time players like Kwinton Smith, Kane Whitehurst, K.J. Brent, Shamier Jeffery and Jody Fuller mature into legitimate Division I receivers or get comfortable on the bench for the rest of their careers. Shaq Roland is a guy who could step up and become an All-SEC caliber receiver, granted he keeps his head on straight and gels with Dylan Thompson in the spring. On defense, Ahmad Christian and Rico McWilliams will need to prove they can inherit the starting jobs at cornerback, and several spots on the defensive line are open. Who will emerge at defensive end out of Gerald Dixon, Mason Harris and Darius English?

RON AIKEN: Dylan Thompson. No longer does he have the cushion of Connor Shaw. Instead, he'll have the pressure of Top-10 expectations and elite performances. Defensively, I'm going to say both defensive end positions. I believe Dukes and Griffin are SEC-capable in replacing Kelcy Quarles, but I remain thoroughly unsold on Gerald Dixon, Mason Harris and Darius English. I have yet to see anything that makes me think they could start at Florida, Georgia, LSU or any other SEC contender. This is by far the most frightening prospect of 2014, and I have to place my feeble hopes in JUCO transfer Jhaustin Thomas (6-foot-6, 240) and Goose Creek's Kalan Ritchie (6-5, 215) to contribute immediately. IMMEDIATELY.

CHRIS CLARK: My first thought to turns to defense. USC returns a lot on offense whether along the front five, at receiver, tight end, running back, and quarterback. There are question marks, sure (no more Connor Shaw, the right guard spot) but most of USC's unknowns will be on defense going into next season. Defensive end will be looking for a pair of new starters. Guys like Gerald Dixon, Mason Harris, Darius English, and then redshirt freshmen David Johnson, Devin Washington and Gerald Turner will all be counted on this offseason to get ready. Some of those guys need to add weight, others will need plenty of practice reps. Cornerback is also think on experience and depth, so that's another position where guys like Ahmad Christian, Rico McWilliams, Ali Groves and others need to have a strong offseason program.

4. Do you believe Connor Shaw deserves to be in the Heisman conversation?

JOSH LOW: I don't think he should be in the conversation of actually winning the award. I do think he should be in the conversation of actually being one of the finalists. If I had a ballot, then I would give Shaw a vote. I wouldn't vote him the winner of the award but I would probably give him third place. The reason is because I know how important he has been to South Carolina this year and I know what he has played through. If there is a player that has played through as much pain as Shaw has this season, then I want someone to tell me about him. I think Shaw is one of the toughest players in college football. His stats aren't through the roof, but they are pretty good.

AVERY WILKS: Connor Shaw deserves all the appreciation he gets for what he's accomplished at South Carolina, but he's not a Heisman candidate by any means. While he had his "Heisman moment" and signature win in leading the comeback at Missouri, he doesn't have the statistics to warrant a second look from the Heisman committee. The last three winners -- Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III and Johnny Manziel -- averaged 4,812 total yards and 48 touchdowns in their Heisman campaigns, while Shaw sits at just 2,646 total yards and 26 touchdowns through 11 games.

RON AIKEN: No. He isn't the best player in America. He's had a marvelous career, terrific by any standard. But the Heisman is for the best player in the nation, and Shaw is not that. At home, maybe. But on the road, he was not good, including this year when the team needed him most at Tennessee (7-for-21 passing, 30 percent completion rate, his one interception of the year). It's unfair, actually, to throw Shaw into that conversation, in my opinion, because it makes you have to look at his flaws when this point of the year should be a celebration of all he did accomplish.

CHRIS CLARK: Why wouldn't he? The Heisman is supposed to be for the best player in college football and is generally thought of as an award for a player that is valuable to his team and not many are more valuable to USC than Shaw. His numbers (21 touchdowns, just one interception) are impressive, his overall record is great and his home record flawless. There are plenty of good players that have been thrown in the conversation and players I think very highly of, but if a guy like Boston College's Andre Williams can be talked about for the Heisman why can't Shaw? It will always puzzle me that he did not receive more recognition during his career. Perhaps it is because he doesn't play for Alabama, a Big 12 offense, or isn't loud and flashy. Am I saying he deserves to win? No, but he needs to be talked about more for it and perhaps earn a few votes at the least.

5. If Auburn and Ohio State wins this weekend, then who do you believe deserves the chance to face Florida State, assuming it beats Duke, in the BCS National Championship Game?

JOSH LOW: No question Auburn would be the more deserving team. I will take it a step further and say Missouri would be more deserving if they were to beat Auburn Saturday and Ohio State wins. Ohio State doesn't have the schedule and they haven't looked dominant on the field. Florida State doesn't deserve a pass here either. Their schedule is just as big of a joke as Ohio State's is. The only difference between the two is Florida State has dominated everyone they have played and they actually do pass the eyeball test. We wouldn't know who the best team in the country is, in my opinion, if the winner of the SEC Championship is not in the BCS National Championship.

AVERY WILKS: It's difficult to tell which team is better, but Auburn is clearly more deserving to be there. I see little worth in a resume that includes just one game against an opponent currently ranked in the AP Top 25, like Ohio State's this season. The Buckeyes' marquee win this season came by a touchdown at home against 9-3 Wisconsin. Though Auburn has a loss, which came in a week four night game against LSU in Death Valley, I think the Tigers have done more to deserve a BCS National Championship Game berth. Auburn is riding an eight-game winning streak and has played four teams currently ranked in the Top 25, beating three of them. It's about time college football begins recognizing the value of quality wins, rather than rewarding teams for coasting through cupcake schedules.

RON AIKEN: Auburn. They've earned it. They have played by far the tougher schedule, and they deserve it over an Ohio State team that squeaked by a miserable Michigan team. I mean, how can you deny the Immaculate Deflection and the Kick Six? They are two of the most amazing plays in college football history, and they happened back-to-back against quality opponents. Auburn has earned the right to play for a title. Ohio State has feasted on a pathetic Big Ten, just as FSU has on an ACC so weak it's not even a fun joke anymore.

CHRIS CLARK: One of the arguments I've heard for Ohio State is that the team hasn't lost in two years. That's all well and good, but last season doesn't mean a thing when you're looking at 2013 (see Auburn, who was awful last season and is playing in the SEC title game this year). College football is "what have you done for me lately." Now, I understand the view that the Buckeyes players don't control the schedule they play. They can't be faulted for playing the teams they do and winning all the games and deserve credit for that. Unfortunately for them, it does have to weigh in because there are other deserving candidates. I've also seen it said that that Auburn wouldn't deserve to jump the Buckeyes because they beat Georgia on a Hail Mary and Alabama on another crazy play. The truth is, every team that plays in the title game year in and year out has good fortune. It doesn't matter if Auburn won a game by having the War Eagle snatch the ball mid-flight and place it in a receiver's hand. A win is a win. Turn it around; Ohio State nearly lost to a bad Michigan team because the Wolverines failed on a two point conversion. Urban Meyer's squad hasn't played a ranked team all season. I also think manner in which either team won the two upcoming games would weigh in my decision. At the end of the day, both teams are probably deserving but it would be hard to go against Auburn for me. This could all be a moot point. What if Missouri beats Auburn and then Michigan State beats the Buckeyes? Then, shouldn't the other Tigers get a look?



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