The Crimson Tide will play their third consecutive SEC opponent on October 9 when they travel to Columbia to take on the Gamecocks of the University of South Carolina.
Last year the Tide hung 20 points on the Gamecocks behind an unbelievable performance by Mark Ingram on his way to winning the Heisman Trophy. The Tide only allowed South Carolina to score six; however this season there will be one major difference on the South Carolina offense in that coach Steve Spurrier will be calling all of the plays for the offense.
There could also be another major change on offense. With Stephen Garcia’s continued struggles in his sophomore campaign, there was some serious conversations in Columbia about replacing him with true freshman Connor Shaw. Though extremely unlikely, it will be very interesting on how Garcia will react to the continued criticism from his coach and those close to the program. Whether or not Garcia is at the helm, there will be seven returning starters on offense including receiver Alshon Jeffery and tight end Weslye (not a typo) Saunders. Combine those two with the rest of the South Carolina receiver core and you are looking at possibly the best receiving core in the SEC East. The one question mark on offense is the offensive line. Even though they return center T.J. Johnson, the ability for the unit to protect the quarterback will be the toughest assignment for the offense.
As on offense, the Gamecock defense will return seven starters from a year ago. They have been one of the best defenses in the last few years. Lets not forget that they held the Tide offense to barely any production last season until Ingram took over the ball game. The Gamecocks return two big names on defense in starters defensive end Cliff Matthews and defensive back Stephon Gilmore. Both will compete for All-SEC honors at their respected positions, and Gilmore may be one of the best shut down corners around.
When the two teams meet on the field against each other this fall, the Gamecocks will look much like the team we saw a year ago. Around the league, the Gamecocks have been selected as the team to finally knock off the Florida Gators and win the SEC East. The check mark on offense definitely goes to the Tide with such a potent offense and the instability on the Gamecock offensive line and quarterback concerns. On the other side of the ball, the Gamecocks get the mark with so many players returning compared to the Tide's two.
However, along with the high expectations comes the pressure along with it. We all know that consistency under pressure is one of Garcia’s lower attributes, but the Gamecocks will have something to prove and will give the Tide everything they have.