Lou Holtz proved over the offseason that he's willing to do almost anything to change the culture of losing at South Carolina and go out as a winner.
Holtz continues to brush off retirement talk. But at 67, he is nearing the end of a coaching career that has spanned five decades. His new assistants must have wondered whether Holtz was in for the long haul: At least three of Holtz's five new hires received guaranteed multiyear deals as protection should he step down.
In addition to his staff shakeup, which included stripping the offensive coordinator title from his son Skip, Holtz showed during spring practice that he's willing to take one for the team. Holtz broke his leg when he ventured too close to a goalline drill and was run over by tailback Cory Boyd. Holtz hopped up and continued coaching. But he's not sure whether his Gamecocks will be able to get off the mat following consecutive 5–7 seasons.
There are signs that the Gamecocks could end their two-year bowl drought. South Carolina returns nearly everyone on offense, including running backs Daccus Turman and Demetris Summers, who combined for nearly 1,300 yards rushing in 2003. Defensively, new coordinator Rick Minter, who ran Holtz's Notre Dame defenses before becoming Cincinnati's head coach, will try to light a fire under a unit that faded last season.
The schedule should be easier, with Alabama replacing defending co-national champion LSU and home games against rebuilding Mississippi and Arkansas.
The time is now if South Carolina wants to send Holtz out on a high note.
OffenseDefensive coordinators curious about what South Carolina's offense will look like with Holtz calling plays can tune into ESPN Classic and check out a Notre Dame game from the late 1980s. Holtz spent the offseason installing several two-back formations, including a veer package that will force opponents to spend time preparing to defend the option. Given the Gamecocks' depth at tailback and their lack of production in the spread the past two seasons, the move appears to be a good one.
Returning quarterback Dondrial Pinkins struggled with his accuracy last season, finishing last among SEC quarterbacks with a 50.3 completion percentage and next to last in passing efficiency. Pinkins will not be asked to do as much in the new offense but still needs to become more consistent to prevent teams from crowding the line to stuff the run. One positive: South Carolina returns five offensive linemen who started at least six games.
DefenseMinter, the Gamecocks' third defensive coordinator in three seasons, will stick with the base 4-3 unit, but promises to do more twists and stunts with the front four. That's good news for a defense that has shown an inability to get pressure out of its base set.
Ends Moe Thompson and George Gause combined for 10 of the Gamecocks' 15 sacks in '03, but got little help from tackles Freddy Saint-Preux and Darrell Shropshire. The linebacking corps is solid when healthy. Ricardo Hurley, regarded as the top linebacker in the country by many recruiting analysts in 2002, could finally make a breakthrough after two subpar seasons.
The secondary is suspect following the departure of the top three cornerbacks, including Dunta Robinson, one of the highest-rated corners in the NFL Draft. Junior college transfer Jonathan Joseph and sophomore Fred Bennett won the corner jobs with solid springs, but neither has started a Division I-A game.
SpecialistsJosh Brown, the Gamecocks' only kicker to receive a scholarship from Holtz out of high school, is the team's best option at place-kicker and punter. Holtz would rather not use Brown for both, but he may have no choice. The junior averaged 40.5 yards per punt last season, while backup Joey Bowers averaged nearly the same with a funky, rugby-type style that Holtz employed.
Final AnalysisWith Holtz changing the offense to a two-back formation with an emphasis on the running game, Summers must stay healthy and rush for close to 1,000 yards. South Carolina has other good backs, but none with Summers' ability to take over a game. If the offense can play ball control and eat the clock, it can cover for a defense that wore down at the end of last season.
If the Gamecocks avoid another late-season slide, they'll be bowling for the first time in three years.