Dr. Saturday - NCAAF

Part the Doc's SEC Week.

It's July and Florida and Georgia are both breaking in new quarterbacks, which can only mean it's time to scan the depth charts and dust off the old "South Carolina breakthrough?" columns. Just remember to put "2010" wherever it says "2007" and replace "Blake Mitchell" with "Stephen Garcia," as in "Has Steve Spurrier finally found his quarterback in Blake Mitchell Stephen Garcia?" You know, people always appreciate the classics.

True, the Gamecocks aren't going to get many opportunities in the East Division than they have in front of them this fall in the few years Spurrier has left. Florida is bidding adieu to its Hall-of-Fame quarterback, eight other draft picks and a longtime defensive coordinator. Georgia is starting a redshirt freshman quarterback and also overhauling its D off its worst season in more than a decade. Tennessee is in complete disarray on pretty much every level.

Carolina, meanwhile, is trotting out easily the most veteran lineup in the division*, with by far the most experienced quarterback among the division contenders and a generally rising talent level all over the field – especially at the skill positions. Besides the quasi-embattled Garcia, the up-and-coming talent at receiver and running back can hold its own with anyone in the East, at least. Spectacular Alshon Jeffery and Tori Gurley combined for 77 catches for more than 1,200 yards and eight touchdowns as true freshmen, with another freshman, Kenny Miles, leading the team in rushing; that title should fall this year to top-ranked signee Marcus Lattimore, the most hyped recruit in Spurrier's tenure by a mile. See also: The secondary, featuring All-SEC corner Stephon Gilmore and safety DeVonte Holloman, hyped high school teammates who made immediate inroads as true freshmen.

But tehn, guys who can run are a dime a dozen, aren't they? The gap between South Carolina and the real conference powerhouses has always manifested itself more in the dirty work:

If any position has driven Spurrier to more coach-on-visor violence than the quarterbacks, it's the offensive line: With the minor exception of 2006, the 'Cocks have struggled even to achieve mediocrity in the running game or in pass protection. Of the 14 draft picks Carolina has sent on to the NFL in the last five years, only one (fifth-round pick Jamon Meredith in 2009) came off the offensive line. The closest Spurrier's had to an offensive lineman on the All-SEC team (first or second team) was tight end Andy Boyd in 2007. This year's front five has 72 career starts between them, and still would likely be shut out of a preseason all-conference team that goes four deep. (Phil Steele's does, and there are no Gamecock O-linemen among his top 20 SEC-wide.)

The defense has been (slightly) better, a direct result of touted recruits like departed linebacker/end Eric Norwood and senior end Cliff Matthews, who was just tagged as an All-SEC pick by conference coaches. (Defensive tackle Ladi Ajiboye also received a second-team nod.) But it hasn't been nearly enough to overcome an attack that literally demanded apologies from the Ball Coach last year, when it failed to top 16 points in any of its last five SEC games and was held to a single garbage-time touchdown in a humiliating bowl loss to Connecticut. Garcia was sacked three times in that game, after going down six times against Florida, three times against both Arkansas and Tennessee and five time at Alabama, all losses in which USC averaged a little under nine points.

Garcia may not be the All-American slinger Spurrier seemingly demands all his quarterbacks to be, but even if he was, I doubt he'd ever have enough time to demonstrate.

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* South Carolina's status as the most veteran team in the East Division also comes from the almighty Steele, whose exhaustively calculated "Experience Ratings" rank the Gamecocks behind only Arkansas in overall grizzle in the SEC. Georgia ranks a very distant fourth in the conference, Florida tenth and Tennessee dead last.

Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.

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