• Last season: 11-2 (6-2)
• All-time record: 576-547-44
• SEC titles: None
• Opener: Texas A&M on Aug. 28
Fifth-year senior quarterback Dylan Thompson is confident he can continue the most successful stretch in South Carolina football history, but he wants to make one thing clear.
He's not Connor Shaw.
"It got called back, but Connor had like an 80-yard touchdown run against Missouri a couple of years ago," Thompson said at SEC media days. "Don't expect to be seeing that from me."
While Shaw forever will be credited for quarterbacking the Gamecocks to a 33-6 record the past three seasons, Thompson has made ample contributions on several occasions when Shaw was injured.
It was Thompson who went the distance in South Carolina's 27-17 win at Clemson in 2012, throwing for 310 yards and three touchdowns. It was Thompson who entered last season's game at Central Florida in the first quarter and guided the Gamecocks to a 28-25 triumph over the eventual Fiesta Bowl champion.
And it's Thompson who heads into his senior season with a 3-0 mark as a starter and having thrown for 1,827 career yards with 14 touchdowns and five interceptions.
"We really believe he's a very good player and has a chance to lead us to a big season," coach Steve Spurrier said during his 10th SEC media days appearance with the Gamecocks. "He's a fifth-year player. He's been to all the games. He's 3-0 as a starter and really played the entire game last year against Central Florida with Connor Shaw getting hurt in the first quarter. He was the only quarterback in the nation to beat UCF.
"He's got to pack his college career into one season, and he's the type of young man who really wants to make the most of it."
One of Thompson's three career wins as a starter came last season at Missouri, but the 6-foot-3, 218-pounder from Boiling Springs, S.C., struggled that evening and was replaced by a hobbled Shaw. The Gamecocks trailed 17-0 early in the fourth quarter, but Shaw engineered a memorable rally that resulted in a 27-24 double-overtime victory.
Thompson could have come away sulking from that game but considers it his biggest learning experience.
"I think I was forcing the issue a lot," he said. "I've watched that tape I don't know how many times, and I've learned to just be patient and to take what the defense gives me. That's what Connor did such a good job of, and I need to do a better job of that."
South Carolina was picked at SEC media days to win its first East Division title since 2010 and its second overall, with one of the main factors being Thompson having big-game experience and meshing with eight returning offensive starters. Senior guard A.J. Cann is an All-SEC candidate, as is junior tailback Mike Davis, who rushed for 1,183 yards and 11 touchdowns last season.
The defense returns six starters and must move on without top overall NFL pick Jadeveon Clowney, but any drop-off is not expected to be substantial for a unit that ranked behind only Alabama within the league last season in points allowed.
Clowney's departure may leave South Carolina without an elite player nationally, but Thompson knows it's his turn to put his stamp on a program that now expects to taste double-digit wins annually.
"He'a a patient guy and has been waiting patiently to get his chance," Cann said. "Now that it's come, he's been working hard and is ready to go out there and play."
Said Thompson: "I'm ready to go play and know that I'm the guy. Our team has really been good this offseason, and I think a lot of our guys have a big year ahead."
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.