Steve Spurrier is keeping most of his praise and criticism in check entering his fifth season as South Carolina's football coach.
The Gamecocks are the first Southeastern Conference team to kick off this season, visiting North Carolina State on Sept. 3. They held their final preseason scrimmage last Wednesday night, and sophomore quarterback Stephen Garcia completed 14 of 16 passes for 150 yards and a touchdown.
Considering Garcia's spotty history since arriving in Columbia, Spurrier had to be thrilled, right?
"He was much improved," Spurrier said. "We took Cliff Matthews out of the game, so he was able to get off some passes."
Matthews, a 6-foot-4, 249-pound junior defensive end, and senior linebacker Eric Norwood (6-1, 252) are the exceptions when it comes to Spurrier tempering his admiration. Matthews will be used as a tight end as well this season, while Norwood has more career tackles for loss (43) and sacks (22) than anybody in the league.
Freshman Stephon Gilmore, who enrolled in January and earned a starting cornerback spot in the spring, rushed seven times for 25 yards and completed 1 of 2 passes for 32 yards out of a "Wildcock" package during the scrimmage.
One potential concern is junior kicker Spencer Lanning, who is penciled in to replace Ryan Succop. In the last two scrimmages, Lanning made just four of 10 field-goal attempts.
"I'm not worried," Spurrier said. "We won a game last year (Kentucky) and missed four field goals."
Here is a look around the rest of the East Division (excluding Georgia and Tennessee):
The offensive line for the defending national champion is expected to shake out with Matt Patchan at left tackle, Carl Johnson at left guard, Maurkice Pouncey at center, Mike Pouncey at right guard and Marcus Gilbert at right tackle. Patchan, a 6-6, 285-pound sophomore, played in 11 games on defense last year and started at defensive tackle in the 63-5 win over Kentucky.
Patchan has great footwork and pad level and isn't afraid to speak out, referring to Tennessee first-year coach Lane Kiffin as a "bozo" earlier this month.
Gators coach Urban Meyer is putting Patchan to the test by lining him up against Carlos Dunlap, a 6-6, 290-pound junior defensive end and the defensive MVP in the BCS championship game against Oklahoma. NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper recently rated Dunlap the No. 3 NFL prospect for next April, trailing only Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford and Tennessee safety Eric Berry.
The Wildcats were hoping to use this month to build on an offense that ranked 106th nationally last season (299.3 yards per game), but injuries are hindering the progress.
Alfonso Smith and Derrick Locke are the top returning tailbacks after rushing for 313 and 303 yards a year ago, but Smith has an injured foot and Locke still has some swelling after knee surgery last winter. After Saturday's scrimmage, coach Rich Brooks said, "Locke is out of shape."
Sophomore Randall Cobb, who had 542 passing yards, 316 rushing yards and 197 receiving yards last season, has battled back spasms and visited a specialist last week in Columbus, Ga. Cobb did not compete Saturday, but Brooks is optimistic he will return this week.
The Commodores are returning their starting offensive and defensive lines but continue to have uncertainties at every offensive skill position.
Senior Jared Hawkins led Vanderbilt in rushing last year with 593 yards but underwent foot surgery after the season. He has not been able to string together many consecutive practices in camp, which has allowed more opportunities for redshirt juniors Gaston Miller and Kennard Reeves and freshman Zac Stacy.
Sophomore Udom Umoh and senior Alex Washington, a tandem that combined for just four catches for 27 yards last season, are the top receivers, and then there is the quarterback race. Sophomore Larry Smith and senior Mackenzi Adams continue to vie, with Smith usually getting first crack with the first team, but coach Bobby Johnson doesn't seem to be in much of a hurry to name the starter.
Last year, Johnson tabbed Chris Nickson over Adams three days before Vandy opened with a 34-13 win at Miami of Ohio.
Former McCallie safety and Commodores freshman Jay Fullam tore a tendon in his left hand and will miss the next month, increasing the likelihood of a redshirt. Before the injury, Johnson said Fullam was on track to play this season.
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...