The South Carolina Gamecocks have had their fair share of ups and downs on the football field. Despite this past decade ending on a sour note, the last ten years have seen some of the best players and moments in program history. As 2020 begins it is only natural to look back at what was arguably the best decade in South Carolina’s football history. Narrowing down a list of the Gamecocks best players over the past ten years is not an easy task.
The Gamecocks Best Offensive Players of the Past Decade
There was no shortage of playmakers in garnet and black to choose from to make this list. The school’s offensive records have been broken multiple times over the last decade. These past 10 years have also seen some of the best team accomplishments in program history. South Carolina won their only SEC East title in 2010. They followed that up three of the Gamecocks best ever seasons, winning 11 games in 2011, 2012, and 2013.
In The Trenches
No matter how spread out and up tempo the college game becomes, winning is still usually determined by who can win in the trenches. The Gamecocks best lineman of the past decade was A.J. Cann, who was a four year starter at guard. He was a team captain in each of his last two seasons, and was named an All-American as a senior in 2014. Inside the line with him are Zach Bailey and Donell Stanley. These two played alongside each other over the past few seasons, with Stanley graduating this past December, and Bailey having left after the 2018 campaign. Both players were versatile and started at multiple spots during their careers. They were best when lining up at guard and center respectively.
Offensive tackle is one of the most important positions in football, especially with how pass heavy the game has become. Brandon Shell and Dennis Daley were both stalwarts on the edges of South Carolina’s offensive line. Shell, the nephew of NFL Hall of Famer Art Shell, started at both right and left tackle while in Columbia. He was named a Freshman All-American in 2012. Daley took the junior college route to get to the SEC, but proved to be ready for the big time as soon as he arrived. He started at left tackle each of his two seasons as a Gamecock.
Bryan Edwards spent his senior season in 2019 putting his name a top the South Carolina record books by claiming the marks for most career catches and yards. Despite his record setting career, he wouldn’t get the start on the Gamecocks best offense of the past decade. The top pairing of wide receivers over the past ten years goes to Alshon Jeffery and Pharoh Cooper.
Jeffery was a beast on the field in garnet and black. His physicality made him a mismatch for any defensive back who tried to cover him. He has the greatest single season in school history with his 1500 yard All-American sophomore campaign. The Calhoun County native made one hand catches look routine while in Columbia. He finished with over 3000 yards and 23 touchdowns receiving.
Cooper didn’t see the field much as a freshman, so he really only had two years as a starting wide out. However, what he did in those two seasons is as impressive as any two year stretch by a Gamecock player. As a sophomore and junior, he posted two of the six best individual seasons in program history. He set the school record for yards in a game with his 233 yard performance against Tennessee. Cooper also ran for 513 yards, and completed 9 career passes with four of them being touchdowns.
Swiss Army Knife
Ace Sanders electrified fans as a receiver and with his punt returns in a way that few players have at South Carolina. However, the nod for the all purpose weapon on the Gamecocks best offense of the decade has to go to Deebo Samuel. The play maker from Inman, SC was as exciting a player as any to have ever worn garnet and black. Samuel is now on his way to the Super Bowl as a rookie with the San Francisco 49ers. He always found a way to get into the end zone, whether it be running, receiving, or in the return game.
Carrying The Load
Marcus Lattimore may be the easiest selection on this list. There hasn’t been another player that impacted this program from day one on campus like the tailback from Byrnes High School. His legend really started in his second career game, when he gave free piggy back rides to Georgia defenders on his way to 189 yards. If not for two terrible knee injuries, Lattimore would likely own all of the Gamecocks’ rushing records. His combination of balance, vision, and power was truly remarkable. If by some chance he needed a few plays off, Mike Davis is the clear choice to get the ball next. As a junior he was 18 yards short of posting back to back 1000 yards seasons.
Connor Shaw left South Carolina as the winningest quarterback in program history. He was 18-0 as a starter in home games. The Georgia native was did not have the big time arm or breakaway speed that some players have. He made his mark with consistency, a high football IQ, and the knack for making critical plays in the biggest moments. His career included a multitude of highlights to draw from, but he is remembered most for leading that fourth quarter comeback on the road against a top five Missouri Tigers team. Down 17-0 in the fourth quarter, the Gamecocks turned to their injured signal caller to rescue them from a second straight defeat. Shaw rose to the occasion and made play after play despite hobbling around on a hurt knee. He was also 2-0 against Clemson, and won three straight New Years Day bowls.