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College football top 25 countdown: No. 6 South Carolina

Gamecocks star Jadeveon Clowney gets all the attention, a rarity for a defensive end, but Coach Steve Spurrier says, 'It's time to start talking team, team, team.' A favorable schedule will help them.

August 22, 2013|Chris Dufresne
  • Jadeveon Clowney and his South Carolina teammates come in at No. 6 on Chris Dufresne's college football preseason rankings.
Jadeveon Clowney and his South Carolina teammates come in at No. 6 on Chris… (C. Michael Bergen / McClatchy-Tribune )

Here is a capsule summary of Jadeveon Clowney's year so far: He knocked the helmet off a Michigan player in a bowl game, ran the 40-yard dash in 4.46 seconds, called out rival quarterbacks for being scared and tipped over a blocking sled in practice.

The Gamecocks' star defensive end doesn't play football … he plays wrecking ball.

Most years, national title hopes are built around a star quarterback or running back or the overall strength of a particular unit.

This year, maybe for the first time, title hopes have been tethered to one 6-foot-6, 272-pound defensive end.

"He and Johnny Football [Manziel] are the only two guys in America that people are talking about," South Carolina Coach Steve Spurrier said this summer. "Jadeveon's hit and Johnny's adventures."

Can one player be that good?

Phil Steele's college football preview magazine has only one of South Carolina's units ranked in his preseason top 15: defensive line.

South Carolina is No. 3 behind Notre Dame and USC.

The ranking, though, is really based on one guy since you'd be hard-pressed to name anyone who plays alongside Clowney.

No one really cared it was actually two players who tipped over that blocking sled in the practice video that went viral. The headlines were "Clowney and teammate knock over sled."

No true defensive player has won the Heisman Trophy, although Notre Dame linebacker Manti T'eo finished second last year to Texas A&M's Manziel. And despite the fact Manziel was a freshman and T'eo was a senior, the vote wasn't that close.

Can one player be that good?

Yes, but … if South Carolina is really going to compete for the national title, it's going to take more than Clowney.

"It's time to start talking team, team, team, and Jadeveon is ready for that," Spurrier said.

Actually, Spurrier is the most important cog in South Carolina's production line.

The "Old Ball Coach" is 68 now and, incredibly, entering his ninth year in Columbia. He has won 31 games the last three seasons and brought everything to the program except an SEC title, which could happen this year.

Spurrier's greatness of late has been his ability to adjust from his free-wheeling days at Florida to today's more conventional approach. South Carolina finished No. 82 nationally in total offense but won a school-record 11 games last season with consistency and defense. The Gamecocks won games by three, four and five points.

Spurrier has raised the bar but isn't sure the talent matches his team's top-10 ranking.

"We've got to play better than people think we are," he said.

There's enough there, however, to suggest another run to glory.

The Gamecocks return both top quarterbacks, Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson. Shaw will be the starter, but Spurrier will continue to use both players.

Thompson is the better passer, and Shaw is the team's leading returning rusher after gaining 435 yards last season.

The schedule, though, is what really has Gamecocks fans excited. They play at Georgia on Sept. 7 but miss the top three teams — Alabama, Louisiana State and Texas A&M from the SEC West.

Spurrier argues: "Who knows if they're going to be the top three.… Maybe Auburn or Mississippi State or one of those other teams will jump up. Arkansas was supposed to be good last year and they went south.…"

Valid point, but South Carolina also gets its two other tough games, Florida and Clemson, in Columbia.

Spurrier has already ended years of misery under the dreaded "Chicken Curse." Winning the SEC title would be a sweet cap on his Hall of Fame career.

Twitter: @DufresneLATimes

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