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Aug. 27, 2014

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South Carolina Notes

The 2014 South Carolina football season gets underway Thursday, August 28, when the Gamecocks begin SEC action against Texas A&M. It’s the first gridiron meeting between the two schools. The 6 p.m. ET game will be televised nationally by the SEC Network with Brent Musburger and Jesse Palmer in the booth and Kaylee Hartung and Maria Taylor on the sidelines. Westwood One has the national radio broadcast with John Sadak handling the play-by-play and Chris Doering providing the color commentary. Todd Ellis and Tommy Suggs handle the call for the Gamecock Radio Network with Langston Moore on the sidelines. WKNT in Columbia (107.5 The Game) is the flagship station for Gamecock Athletics.

Date: Thursday, August 28
Kickoff: 6 p.m. ET
Location: Columbia, S.C.
Stadium: Williams-Brice Stadium (80,250)
Series: First Meeting
TV: SEC Network
RADIO Flagship – 107.5 FM “The Game” & the IMG Network

A LITTLE HISTORY: 2014 marks the 121st season of intercollegiate football at the University of South Carolina, dating back to 1892. It is the 108th-consecutive year in which South Carolina has competed on the gridiron. The University did not field a team in either 1893 or 1906. Carolina is 29 games over the .500 mark with an all-time record of 576-547-44. The Gamecocks were nine games under .500 until head coach Steve Spurrier took the reins in 2005, but are 38 games over since that time

SEC HISTORY: The 2014 season marks South Carolina’s 23rd year in the Southeastern Conference. South Carolina and Arkansas joined the league prior to the 1992 campaign. The Gamecocks earned their first SEC Eastern Division title in the 2010 season. Carolina was 37-66-1 (.361) in SEC action from 1992-2004, but are 41-31 (.569) in conference play since Coach Spurrier took the reins, including an 18-6 mark over the last three years.

THURSDAY SPECIAL: The Gamecocks are very familiar with Thursday night games. Since head coach Steve Spurrier took over in 2005, Carolina has played 11 Thursday night ESPN contests. Carolina opened its 2005 season on a Thursday with a 24-15 win against UCF. In 2006, the Gamecocks opened at Mississippi State on a Thursday and pitched a 15-0 shutout. They also lost a mid-season Thursday night contest at home to Auburn. In 2007, they defeated eighth-ranked Kentucky on a Thursday by a 38-23 score. In 2008, they played the first two games of the season on Thursdays – defeating NC State 34-0 before falling at Vanderbilt, 24-17. In 2009 they opened the year with a Thursday night 7-3 win at NC State, then knocked off fourth-ranked Ole Miss on a Thursday at home by a 16-10 score. They opened the 2010 season with a convincing 41-13 win over Southern Miss on a Thursday in Columbia. In 2012, the Gamecocks edged Vanderbilt in Nashville by a 17-13 score. Last season, the Gamecocks came out of the box with a 27-10 win over North Carolina. Carolina is 9-2 in Thursday night tilts under Coach Spurrier, including a 6-1 record at home and a 3-1 record on the road. The Gamecocks are 7-0 in season openers on Thursdays under the Head Ball Coach.

HOT AUGUST NIGHT: The Gamecocks are opening their season in August for just the ninth time in school history. All nine August games have come in the past 30 years, with five coming since the turn of the century. The Gamecocks are 7-1 in games played in the month of August, including a 5-1 record at home and a 2-0 record on the road.

CAROLINA VERSUS THE AGGIES: Carolina and A&M have never met on the gridiron. However, they are new “permanent opponents” and will be playing each year in the foreseeable future.

THE LONE STAR: South Carolina features just one player from the Lone Star State, sophomore kicker Elliott Fry. Fry, an SEC All-Freshman selection a year ago, hails from Frisco, Texas, located north of Dallas, about 200 miles from College Station. Linebackers coach Kirk Botkin hails from Baytown, Texas, located east of Houston, about two hours from A&M, while special teams coordinator Joe Robinson lists his hometown as Abilene, about 275 miles from the A&M campus.

EARNING THEIR WAY: Two former walk-ons – junior wide receiver Carlton Heard and senior fullback Jordan Diaz – were rewarded with scholarships by Coach Spurrier during the preseason camp for the 2014 school year.

OPENING ON A POSITIVE: South Carolina has won 14-straight season openers, dating back to a 10-0 loss at NC State to begin the 1999 season. That streak ties Texas for the fifth-longest season-opening winning streak in the country.

MAKING A POINT: USC tied the school record for season openers by tallying 56 points in the 2011 clash against East Carolina in a 56-37 win in Charlotte. Carolina has scored 40 or more points in 12 season openers, including two of the past four seasons (41 vs. Southern Miss in 2010).

THREE-PEAT: The Gamecocks have put together three-straight 11-win seasons, the first back-to-back-to-back, double-digit win seasons in school history. They have logged three of their four 10-or more win seasons in the last three years. The only previous 10-win campaign came in 1984. The Gamecocks have won 22 games over the past two seasons, 33 over the past three seasons, and 42 over the past four seasons, all school records.

BEATING THE BEST: The Gamecocks defeated six teams that won its 2013/14 postseason bowl game: Clemson (Orange), UCF (Fiesta), Missouri (Cotton), North Carolina (Belk), Mississippi State (Liberty) and Vanderbilt (BBVA Compass). South Carolina also posted wins over three teams that finished in the AP Top-10 (Missouri – 5; Clemson – 8; UCF – 10). In addition, Carolina posted wins over five teams that finished in the Top-25 in both the AP and Coaches’ polls (Missouri – 5/5; Clemson – 8/7; UCF – 10/12; Wisconsin – 22/21; and Vanderbilt – 24/23).

THE RANKINGS PART I: The Gamecocks finished fourth in the final Associated Press and USA TODAY/Coaches polls. It marked the highest finish in school history, surpassing the No. 8/7 rankings from the 2012 campaign.

THE RANKINGS PART II: The Gamecocks open the 2014 campaign ranked ninth in both the A.P. and Coaches’ polls. The Gamecocks are slated to play five teams that open the season in the top 25 including Auburn (6), Georgia (12), Clemson (16), Texas A&M (21) and Missouri (24). This marks the first time in school history that the Gamecocks have been ranked in the AP preseason top 25 (or top 12) in four straight seasons. Only five schools – Alabama, Oregon, Florida State, South Carolina and LSU – have been in preseason AP Top 12 each of last four years.

TOP-10 PROGRAM: The Gamecocks have put together three-straight Top-10 finishes, the first three in school history, finishing ninth in 2011, eighth in 2012 and fourth in 2013 according to the Associated Press. They finished eighth, seventh and fourth in each subsequent year in the USA Today/ESPN Coaches’ poll. South Carolina, Alabama and Oregon are the only Division I schools to finish in the AP Top-10 in each of the past three seasons. The Gamecocks have finished among the nation’s Top 25 for four-straight seasons, another “first” in school history. Here are South Carolina’s all-time final AP Top-25 rankings:

YEAR (FINAL AP): 1958 (13); 1984 (11); 1987 (15); 2000 (19); 2001 (13); 2010 (22); 2011 (9); 2012 (8); 2013 (4).

THE STREAK CONTINUES: The Gamecocks are tied for the fifth-longest current streak of being ranked in the Associated Press’s Top-25. Carolina and Stanford have been ranked for 65-consecutive polls, trailing only Alabama, LSU, Oregon and Oklahoma. Carolina’s streak started with the second week of the 2010 season and is the longest consecutive streak in school history.

GOOD HOME COOKIN’: The Gamecocks are putting a school record 18-game home winning streak on the line. The previous high was 15 games, set from 1978-80. The Gamecocks’ 18-game home winning streak is the longest current streak in the nation. Northern Illinois has won 26-straight games in its home stadium, but the NCAA considers its loss to Iowa at Chicago’s Soldier Field in the 2012 season opener as a “home” loss and credits them with a current 11-game home winning streak. Stanford (16), Ohio State (15) and Fresno State (13) have the next longest streaks. The Gamecocks are also 34-3 (.919) in their last 37 home games. The only home losses since the start of the 2009 season came to top-ranked Florida in 2009, to 17th-ranked Arkansas in 2010 and to defending national champion Auburn in 2011.

PERFECT AT HOME: Carolina has gone a perfect 7-0 at home in each of the past two seasons. 2012 marked the first time they ran the table at home since joining the SEC. The last time they had gone undefeated at home prior to 2012 was in 1987. They have been undefeated and untied at home 11 times in school history.

ROAD WARRIORS: The Gamecocks are 12-5 in their last 17 true road contests. Four of the five road losses in that stretch came to nationally-ranked opponents: at No. 8 Arkansas in 2011, at No. 9 LSU and No. 3 Florida in 2012 and at No. 11 Georgia in 2013, before losing to unranked Tennessee in 2013.

NON-CONFERENCE WINS: South Carolina has won 15-straight games against non-conference opponents. Its last non-conference loss came to Florida State in the 2010 Chick-fil-A Bowl. Since that loss they have defeated East Carolina (twice), Navy, The Citadel, Clemson (three times), Nebraska, UAB, Wofford, Michigan, North Carolina, UCF, Coastal Carolina and Wisconsin.

CLOSE BUT NO CIGAR: The Gamecocks have been frustrated by defeating the SEC Eastern Division champion in each of the past three years (Georgia in 2011 and 2012; Missouri in 2013) and having a 6-2 conference record in each campaign, yet did not represent the East at the SEC title game in any of those seasons.

STARTING ON A ROLL: The Gamecocks won their final six games of the 2013 season, with consecutive victories over Missouri, Mississippi State, Florida, Coastal Carolina, Clemson and Wisconsin. It’s the first time in school history that Carolina enters the season on a six-game winning streak. The Gamecocks enter the 2014 season tied with Louisville for the nation’s fourth-longest winning streak behind Florida State (16), Michigan State (10) and UCF (9).

GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN: The Gamecocks said goodbye to 10 lettermen from last year’s roster including eight starters. The departing starters include DE Jadeveon Clowney, WR Bruce Ellington, CB Victor Hampton, CB Jimmy Legree, OG Ronald Patrick, DT Kelcy Quarles, QB Connor Shaw and DE Chaz Sutton.

IT’S A NUMBERS GAME: The Gamecocks return 78 percent of their rushing yards, 26 percent of their passing yards and 75 percent of their receiving yards from a year ago. In addition, six of the squad’s top eight tacklers, return in 2014.

THEY’RE BACK: The Gamecocks welcomed 56 returning letterwinners to begin the 2014 fall session. The 56 lettermen consist of 27 offensive players, 23 defensive players and six special teams players. The Gamecocks lost 12 lettermen, including six on offense and six on defense.

STAFF INTACT: The Gamecocks return their entire coaching staff from the 2013 campaign. It’s the first time in Coach Spurrier’s tenure at South Carolina that every member of the staff returned for a second-straight season.

GAMECOCKS PICKED TO WIN THE EAST: Media attending the annual SEC Media Days in Birmingham in July picked South Carolina to win the Eastern Division of the SEC in 2014. The Gamecocks claimed the top spot in the East despite having no players listed on the first-team all-conference squad as selected by the media. It’s the first time in SEC history that has occurred. Georgia, Florida and Missouri follow the Gamecocks, ahead of Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Kentucky. Alabama edged Auburn for the No. 1 spot in the West, with LSU, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Texas A&M and Arkansas rounding out the pack.

WAITING HIS TURN: Fifth-year senior Dylan Thompson takes over as the starting signal-caller for the Gamecocks in 2014. Thompson has waited patiently for his turn behind Connor Shaw, the winningest quarterback in school history. The 6-3, 218-pounder from Boiling Springs, who proposed marriage to his girlfriend at midfield in August, is 3-0 as a starter, recording wins against East Carolina and at Clemson in 2012, and at Missouri in 2013. He threw for over 300 yards and for three touchdowns in each of the wins in 2012. He also threw the game-winning touchdown in the final seconds of the 2013 Outback Bowl win over Michigan. For his career, he has completed 55.0 percent of his passes for 1,827 yards with 14 touchdowns and five interceptions.

A SPECIAL FRIENDSHIP: Fifth-year seniors quarterback Dylan Thompson and offensive guard A.J. Cann have developed a special bond. Not only are they great friends and roommates, but they also spent a week over the summer together in Israel, where they were able to teach some of the locals about football. The once in a lifetime experience was one they will both remember forever.

BE LIKE MIKE: Junior tailback Mike Davis has earned preseason All-America recognition. The 5-9, 223-pounder from Atlanta, Ga., logged the fourth-most single-season rushing yards in school history last season when he rambled for 1,183 yards with 11 touchdowns. He enters his third season ranked 26th in school history with 1,458 rushing yards and owns seven 100-yard rushing games. Of the 41 players in school history with 1,000 or more career rushing yards, Davis’s yards per carry average of 5.718 trails only Carl Brazell’s average of 5.729. Davis is the younger brother of former Clemson standout James Davis.

GO THE DISTANCE: Mike Davis logged four rushes of 50 yards or more in his first two seasons. He had a 50-yarder against UAB in 2012. His 75-yard burst against North Carolina in the 2013 season opener and his first career start was the longest by a Gamecock since Bobby Wallace went for 88 against Middle Tennessee in 2006. He matched that with another 75-yard sprint at Georgia. Of the 14 runs in school history of 75 yards or longer, Davis is the only one to do it twice. His fourth-career 50-yard jaunt came at UCF, a 53-yard TD run. Only Derek Watson has more runs of 50-plus yards at Carolina. Here’s the list of those with three or more:

AGAIN AND AGAIN: Only 10 players in South Carolina history have eight or more games of 100-yard rushing in their career. Mike Davis is looking to become the 11th player on that list as he enters with 7 games with 100 or more rushing yards.

HE IS NOT ALONE: Although Mike Davis has received the lion’s share of the publicity, he is not the only capable runner in the Gamecock backfield. Junior Brandon Wilds (6-2, 222) has 707 rushing yards and six touchdowns on 150 career carries. As a true freshman in 2011, he started the year as the fifth-team tailback, but as injuries mounted, he climbed the depth chart and posted three 100-yard rushing games, including a career-high 137 against Tennessee. Junior Shon Carson (5-8, 201), who has also dabbled a little in baseball during his Carolina career, possesses a burst, as witnessed by his 58-yard carry against Florida last season. Gamecock coaches believe redshirt freshman David Williams (6-1, 214) has the size and speed to be the long-term answer at tailback.

NOTHING CATCHY ABOUT THIS: The Gamecocks feature four wide receivers that are expected to receive the bulk of the throws this season.

Junior Shaq Roland (6-1, 176), a former “Mr. Football” in the state of South Carolina, is the most gifted of the bunch. He came on strong at the end of his sophomore season, posting a career-high 112 receiving yards on six catches in the 2014 Capital One Bowl win over Wisconsin.

Senior Nick “Governor Nicky” Jones (5-7, 168), has been consistent and sometimes overlooked throughout his Carolina career. He just has a knack for getting open.

Senior Damiere Byrd (5-9, 170) is the fastest Gamecock and one of the fastest players in the SEC. He has seven career receptions of 40 yards or more, is a two-time CoSIDA Academic All-District selection and was a captain on the Gamecocks’ track & field squad.

Sophomore Pharoh Cooper (5-11, 201) was an All-SEC Freshman selection last season as both an all-purpose back and return specialist. He is a player the Carolina coaches love to see with the ball in his hands.

STELLAR TIGHT ENDS: The Gamecocks are blessed with a pair of standout tight ends. Senior Rory “Busta” Anderson (6-5, 227) is an All-SEC candidate. Anderson has averaged 17.8 yards per catch with eight touchdowns in his career. He suffered a torn triceps muscle late in spring drills and has been working to get healthy. Junior Jerell Adams (6-6, 242) has averaged 16.3 yards per catch and has three scores in his first two campaigns. Senior Cody Gibson (6-7, 278) made the conversion to tight end this fall after spending his career at tackle. Drew Owens and Brendan Nosovitch could also see action at tight end.

90 IS THE NEW 78: Fifth-year senior Cody Gibson made the transition this fall from offensive tackle, where he worked during his first four seasons at South Carolina, to tight end. He changed his number to 90 from 78. He is expected to see action primarily in two-tight end sets.

IMPRESSIVE O-LINE: The Gamecocks feature what many believe may be the best offensive line in school history. Senior left guard A.J. Cann (6-4, 311) is the anchor. He has made 38 career starts, the most on the squad, and has been named to five preseason first-team All-America squads. Senior left tackle Corey Robinson (6-8, 344) has made 22 starts and was a second-team preseason All-SEC pick by both the media and coaches. Junior right tackle Brandon Shell (6-6, 333) has made 23 career starts and was a preseason third-team All-SEC selection by the league’s 14 coaches. Center Clayton Stadnik (7 starts) and right guard Cody Waldrop (6 starts) both gained experience last season as redshirt freshmen. The quintet has combined for 96 career starts.

MISSING MIKE: Fourth-year junior offensive lineman Mike Matulis has been sidelined with a left knee injury, suffered in a preseason scrimmage. Matulis was penciled in to be the starter at right guard. The 6-5, 307-pounder has made 10 starts in his Gamecock career, all at a tackle position.

BROTHERLY LOVE: The Gamecocks have two sets of brothers on the squad. Redshirt sophomore offensive linemen Brock and Clayton Stadnik are twins. On the defensive line, Gerald Dixon and Gerald Dixon Jr. are half-brothers. They share the same father, Gerald Dixon Sr., who played at Carolina in the early `90s.

LIFE WITHOUT CLOWNEY: Senior defensive tackle J.T. Surratt (6-2, 310) becomes the leader the defensive line. He is the only returning starter along the front four, as Carolina looks to replace Jadeveon Clowney, Kelcy Quarles and Chaz Sutton, the first two of whom earned All-America honors. Surratt is the Gamecocks’ active leader in career sack with 2.0. In fact, the entire current roster has combined for just 12.0 sacks, half of Clowney’s career total of 24.0. Here are the returning players’ sack numbers:

DEEP LINEBACKING CORPS: What was perceived as the weak link of the defense a year ago is now the strength. The Gamecocks return all of their linebackers and Spurs, and defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward says he feels comfortable rotating as many as nine players at those positions.

THE SKAI’S THE LIMIT: The best linebacker in the SEC that no one has heard about may be sophomore Skai Moore. The 6-2, 213-pounder from Cooper City, Fla. led the Gamecocks in both tackles (56) and interceptions (4) as a true freshman in 2013, despite starting just four games.

SHARING THE WEALTH: The Gamecocks distributed their tackles fairly evenly last season, with nine players recording between 39 and 56 tackles. Six of the top eight tacklers return, led by Skai Moore (56) and Kaiwan Lewis (54).

Defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward has been impressed by several true freshmen on the defensive side of the ball. Al Harris Jr., whose father Al Harris was an NFL Pro Bowl cornerback, is slated to be a starter at one cornerback position. Wesley Green and Chris Lammons did not arrive on campus until August, but project to see playing time at corner as well this season after the Gamecocks lost both starting corners from a year ago, Victor Hampton and Jimmy Legree. Despite the entire stable of linebackers returning in tact, Bryson Allen-Williams figures to see significant action this season as well, especially when Carolina lines up in a 3-4 defense.

LEADER IN THE SECONDARY: Senior Brison Williams is the unquestioned leader in the secondary. The 5-11, 208-pound senior from Warner Robins, Ga., has played both safety positions during his Gamecock career, but will slide over to corner to start the 2014 campaign. He has started 24 times over the past three seasons.

PICK THIS: The Gamecocks intercepted 18 passes a season ago, led by linebacker Skai Moore’s four INT’s. Here are the returning players’ interception numbers:

THE FRISCO KID: Elliott Fry walked on to the Gamecock squad last summer and earned the starting placekicking chores. The Frisco, Texas product went 15-for-18 in field goal attempts and was successful on 54-of-55 extra point attempts for a team-leading 99 points, earned Freshman All-SEC accolades. His 99 points were the fourth-highest single-season total in school history.

HULL OF A PUNTER: Senior Tyler Hull will handle the punting chores for Carolina for a third-straight season. He has averaged 38.7 yards on 100 punts throughout his career.

THEY PAY TO SEE THE GAMECOCKS PLAY: The Gamecock fans turned out in record number in 2013, as every game was considered a sellout. Carolina ranked 14th in the nation in average home attendance in 2013, averaging 82,401 in the 80,250-seat Williams-Brice Stadium, 102.7 percent of capacity.

TOTING THE SHEEPSKIN: Nine Gamecocks will have earned their degree by the time the 2014 season commences, including A.J. Cann, Ryland Culbertson, Patrick Fish, Cody Gibson, Sharrod Golightly, Nick Jones, Connor McLaurin, Sidney Rhodes and Dylan Thompson.

WHO’S NEXT? The Gamecocks have had a first-team All-America selection in each of the last five seasons. Eric Norwood (2009) got things started, followed by Alshon Jeffery (2010), Melvin Ingram (2011), Jadeveon Clowney (2012 and 2013) and Kelcy Quarles (2013).

SILVER ANNIVERSARY: Head coach Steve Spurrier is in his 25th season as a college head coach. He has won 219 games in that time, the fourth-highest win total among Division I coaches in their first 25 years. With a successful 2014 campaign, he could move up to second on the list, behind only Nebraska’s Tom Osborne. Here is that impressive list of 200 or more wins over the first 25 seasons as a head coach:

UP NEXT: Carolina hosts East Carolina in the middle game of a three-game season-opening homestand on Saturday, September 6. The Gamecocks lead the all-time series over the Pirates, 12-5. Under Steve Spurrier, the Gamecocks are 2-0 against ECU, winning by a 56-37 count in the 2011 season opener in Charlotte, and by a 48-10 score in 2012. ECU’s last win in the series came by a 21-3 score in 1999.