The Preseason AP Top 25 poll won’t come out until next month, but here at BangTheBook.com, we’re giving you a Top 25 from a betting perspective. Using power ratings to determine the top 25 teams in college football, readers will have the opportunity to look at what the preseason Top 25 might look like if designed by a bettor. Each article will feature a preview of that team with a write-up for each position and an explanation of why the position group was rated that way and some further insight into the methodology of creating power ratings.
The Methodology: Each team is rated up to 100 with eight different position groups considered. Quarterbacks, offensive and defensive lines, and coaching are graded on a scale of 4 to 15, while running backs, wide receivers, linebackers, and defensive backs are graded on a scale of 4 to 10 in half-point increments.
Groups are rated on returning production, potential, previous performance, and a handful of other variables. Information was gathered from all corners of the college football world, including preseason magazines, websites dedicated to specific teams, national college football websites, and more.
The #11 team on the BangTheBook.com Preseason Top 25 is the South Carolina Gamecocks.
The Gamecocks said goodbye to Connor Shaw, who had the best record as a starting quarterback in program history. In Shaw’s place will be Dylan Thompson, who has started three games in the last three years. Thompson is supposedly a better pocket passer than Shaw, but the Gamecocks lose a lot of the intangibles that Shaw brought to the table and Thompson isn’t nearly as effective in the zone-read game. There’s no experience on the bench either, so this is a dangerously thin position. However, Thompson has been in the system for a while and he has plenty of help from the rest of the offense.
Running Backs (10/10)
Heisman Trophy darkhorse Mike Davis anchors a backfield that includes Brandon Wilds and Shonn Carson, who are also juniors and have gotten experience at various times throughout their careers. Without Shaw, who had a 24/1 TD/INT ratio last season, the Gamecocks figure to run the ball a ton and they have three capable backs, though Davis is clearly the star. Davis, Wilds, and Carson also added 48 receptions out of the backfield, something to keep an eye on with the less mobile Thompson in the pocket.
Wide Receivers (8.5/10)
Consider this the first real “reach” of the countdown, as the Gamecocks’ receiving corps lacks a star player, but Thompson has a bigger arm than Shaw and that means that the Gamecocks will take more shots down the field, especially in play action. There’s speed on this receiving corps and it could be the coming out party for former Mr. South Carolina, Shaq Roland. Roland has taken his time developing and the departure of Bruce Ellington leaves an opening for both he and Damiere Byrd to step up. Last year’s Mr. South Carolina, Shaq Davidson, is a true freshman. The Gamecocks also have two huge targets at tight end and Thompson has the arm strength to get the ball to them.
Offensive Line (14.5/15)
This has the chance to be the best offensive line in the country and certainly the best offensive line in the SEC. There are 113 starts worth of experience on the line and only one new starter, but Mike Matulis started nine games in 2011 and 2012 before a shoulder injury forced him to redshirt last season. The Gamecocks also have depth here and could line up in some three tight-end sets with offensive linemen as additional blockers.
Defensive Line (12/15)
The losses are huge on the defensive line for the Gamecocks with Jadeveon Clowney and Kelcy Quarles in the NFL. Also gone is defensive tackle Chaz Sutton. That’s three starters that have to be replaced and that’s significant. With that said, the Gamecocks went from 3.1 to 4.3 yards per carry and from 43 sacks down to just 25 between 2012 and 2013, so a better linebacking corps, like this season’s, will help. JT Surratt is the lone holdover, but Steve Spurrier brought in two JUCO transfers, including a first-team All-American from last season.
The second level was a problem for the Gamecocks last season and teams ran away from Jadeveon Clowney and the defensive line. With the defense stretched out, the Gamecocks struggled against the run. This season, they return all three starters, as opposed to losing nearly the whole unit last season. True sophomore Skai Moore led the team in tackles and senior Sharrod Golightly is an under-the-radar player worth keeping an eye on. He’s the big play blitz linebacker for the Gamecocks.
Defensive Backs (7.5/10)
This unit has to be the biggest area of concern for Steve Spurrier and defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward. Ward likes to blitz and leave his corners on an island, but the Gamecocks lost both starting corners from last season and this is not a deep area for the Gamecocks. Most of the rating here comes from the safeties, including Brison Williams, who has been a starter the last two seasons and the amount of depth at that position. Luckily for the Gamecocks, a lot of starting quarterbacks from last season are no longer on their respective teams, so it looks like more of a run-heavy conference all around.
Quote machine Steve Spurrier has a wealth of college football experience and has turned the South Carolina program from a laughing stock into a legitimate top team. It took a few years to put his stamp on the program, but Spurrier has helped orchestrate three straight 11-win seasons and three straight bowl victories. His son, Steve Jr., is the offensive coordinator, but the Ol’ Ball Coach calls his own plays. Lorenzo Ward is in his fourth year as the DC and the Gamecocks have allowed 20.3 or fewer points per game over his tenure.
The Gamecocks are tied with LSU for 10th, but the Gamecocks are bumped to 11th because LSU seems to have more talent. That’s not a knock on South Carolina by any means, but LSU certainly pulls in the recruits. The Gamecocks are up there with the Georgia Bulldogs in the SEC East, a division that looks decidedly down a couple of notches from last season. It seems that the losses that the Gamecocks have (DL, DB, QB) come at a good time to deal with.
The health of Mike Davis and the offensive line will be the key to the season. Thompson will probably be the “Adam Dunn” of quarterbacks as a guy that hits some home runs, but also strikes out a lot. The play-action game could be deadly for the Gamecocks if the wide receivers catch the deep balls and if Thompson’s accuracy is on point.
This is a very strong team with a good coach and recent successes have given them more of an opportunity to reload rather than rebuild. That’s why they’re the #11 team in our Preseason Top 25.
Adam Burke is a freelance writer and amateur handicapper with a knack for finding value through matchup analysis and a deep understanding of the sports betting market. His main area of expertise is baseball, with a background in sabermetrics and advanced statistics. He is the host of The Gridiron Gambling Report and our college football and college basketball BangTheBook.com podcasts on the BlogTalkRadio Network.