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South Carolina Gamecocks' season begins with early test against Texas A&M

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Dylan Thompson is ready to begin the season as the starting quarterback. Dylan Thompson is ready to begin the season as the starting quarterback.
Running back Mike Davis is expected to be a healthy part of the offense this season, but can he stay healthy? Running back Mike Davis is expected to be a healthy part of the offense this season, but can he stay healthy?
Coach Steve Spurrier is hoping his team is ready to make that leap back into SEC title contention. Coach Steve Spurrier is hoping his team is ready to make that leap back into SEC title contention.
COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) -

So, are you ready for Thursday night? You've been keeping up with the offseason noise, or "talking season" as coach Steve Spurrier refers to it, for so long that South Carolina's opener against Texas A&M feels like an eternity away.

But here we just hours away from kickoff. The hopes and dreams of an entire fanbase now rides on the shoulders of several new and veteran faces.

Those faces could mean the difference between a special season or an ordinary one.

Dylan Thompson is the guy

Most of the offseason has been focused on South Carolina breaking in fifth-year senior quarterback Dylan Thompson as the new starter. Despite backing up former quarterback Connor Shaw for several seasons, Thompson has the experience and the consistency to help ease his transition to full-time starter.

South Carolina fans, of course, love to point out that their new QB already has a big-time victory over Upstate rival Clemson under his belt.

Still, this is a brand new season and Thompson is not resting on past successes.

Spurrier, who has continuously sang the praises of Thompson, says his guy is ready to go.

"We've got to keep him healthy, but he's ready to have a big year, I believe," said Spurrier.

Even though Thompson has the arm and can make the plays – heck, he can even run when it's necessary – you can bet South Carolina will be leaning on running back Mike Davis to help the team carry the load and eat the clock in this game to help keep A&M's high-powered offense off the field.

Davis will be looking to make a statement of his own. After a few nagging injuries last season and a handful of costly fumbles, Davis looks to make the rest of the SEC take further notice of him.
 
However, coach Spurrier openly opined last week that Davis may not even start due to ongoing issues with his running back's ribs.
 
But South Carolina is extremely deep at the running back position. Junior running back Brandon Wilds sits behind Davis, and Shon Carson and David Williams fill out the bench.
 
A&M's breaking in a new QB, too
 
The Legend of Johnny Football came to an end last year, leaving a big, gaping question mark at quarterback for the Aggies.
 
After months of speculation and weeks of practice, A&M coach Kevin Sumlin finally settled on sophomore Kenny Hill to take on the mantle of starting QB.
 
Hill saw mostly mop-up duty last year as an Aggie, completing 16 passes for 183 yards and a touchdown over the course of four games.
 
Still, that doesn't mean Hill can't throw it around. Sumlin's offense is tailor-made for airing out the football and the Aggies will likely rely on the big time plays in order to get points on the board.
 
South Carolina fans should be on the lookout for A&M's wide receiver corps, which has one of college football's heralded recruits, freshman Speedy Noil. Fancy that, a wide receiver named Speedy.
 
Spurrier vs. Sumlin has been entertaining already
 
Yes, "talking season" is over now, but boy has it been entertaining already watching Sumlin and Spurrier rib each other gently through the media.
 
It all started at SEC Media Days when Spurrier took a slight swipe at Sumlin's new six-year, $30 million deal at Texas A&M.
 
"Kevin Sumlin has an excellent record as a coach. He's a good negotiator, we know that also, so he's got a good deal," said Spurrier with a bit of his trademark laughter thrown in.
Sumlin, of course, was asked about that comment several hours later during his own news conference, but he didn't nibble at it much.
 
"Just had to get that out there, didn't you, right? See you guys stirring the pot, trying to bring me in," said Sumlin. "It's year three, you're not going to get me on that."
 
Sumlin went on to praise Spurrier, saying the two are actually close friends and have traveled together. The young coach also praised Spurrier's work at building up South Carolina in the past few years.
 
But as a young coach growing up, it's hard to say he wasn't the standard. He is the standard," said Sumlin. "You look at what he's done at South Carolina, three 11‑win seasons. That's incredible in this league. South Carolina, the recruiting that has gone on, playing in a championship game, no matter where you are in the country, what conference you're in, whatever it is, you cannot deny his accomplishments as a head coach."
 
But for Sumlin, "talking season" means plenty in this league, especially when sizing up your opponent.
 
"You know, like I said the other day, he's been awful quiet. That means he must think they're pretty good," said Sumlin. "We're going to have our work cut out for us going there the first game."
 
Defense, shmefense
 
Despite the new quarterbacks for both teams, defense appears to be the biggest question mark for the Aggies and the Gamecocks.
 
While A&M lost the dazzling Johnny Manziel on offense, South Carolina lost anchor Jadeveon Clowney and several other starters on defense.
 
A&M is also troubled by the loss of several defensive starters on what was already considered to be one of the weakest defenses in the SEC last year.
 
With the secondary the biggest worry for the Gamecocks, we could the Aggies throwing it more knowing that the defensive backs are a little on the green side compared to previous seasons.
 
To sum it up
 
If you're a big fan of offense, then this game will surely delight you plenty. Spurrier will be eager to prove his team can contend in the SEC while Sumlin will want to show you his team was not all Johnny Manziel.

This is also a brand new rivalry game with a trophy involved. Take a gander at The Bonham Trophy when you get a moment.

Many South Carolina fans were puzzled after A&M was picked as the new cross-division rival. After last night's Midnight Yell where thousands of fans on both sides converged on the State House to see who could out talk the other, it's easy to see now.

As Spurrier said it, "talking season" is over. It's time to lay it all on the field. ​

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