South Carolina coach Lou Holtz has endured back-to-back losing seasons the past two years.
After last year's 5-7 campaign, including a 2-6 mark in SEC play, Holtz made wholesale changes to his coaching staff.
Here are five questions to ponder before the Gamecocks begin their season Sept. 4 at Vanderbilt:
1. How much will Dondrial Pinkins play this year?
Lou Holtz told media members during the spring that he thought Pinkins, going into his senior year, would shock the conference this fall.
Two weeks later backup Syvelle Newton - a raw, athletically gifted sophomore - outshined him at the spring game, throwing Pinkins' role into a tailspin.
Holtz appears committed to starting Pinkins, but has said he doesn't mind playing two quarterbacks to mix things up.
Pinkins will have a chance to keep Newton on the sideline. Can he, though? Gamecocks fans also haven't heard the last of Blake Mitchell's name, either.
2. Who will carry the load at tailback more, Demetris Summers or Daccus Turman?
Summers rushed for 638 yards last year as a freshman, but a concussion sidelined him during the latter part of the season.
During that time, Turman received a more consistent chance to run the ball and did a pretty solid job of it. He finished the year with 646 yards.
Summers is probably the more talented of the two, but it will be interesting to see who gets the bulk of the carries in an offense that Holtz promises to feature more one-back sets.
3. Will the Gamecocks beat Vanderbilt?
Laugh if you want, but the season opener in Nashville is in no way a cinch.
The Commodores return 10 offensive and 11 defensive starters.
Granted last year's team went 2-10, but the product former Furman coach Bobby Johnson puts on the field in his second year is bound to be better than the first.
NFL scouts are pretty high on junior quarterback Jay Cutler, who threw for 2,347 yards last season. He needs to cut down on his 13 interceptions this year.
The Gamecocks aren't used to starting a season with a Southeastern Conference game, much less traveling to do so. With Georgia on deck, don't be too surprised if they start the year 0-2 before South Florida and Troy come to Columbia.
4. Can the culture in Columbia be changed?
Holtz has been chirping pretty continuously since the final seconds of last year's 63-17 season-ending blowout loss to Clemson that something had to change.
First it was assistant coaches (four were fired after the season, including defensive coordinator Chris Cosh, who was replaced by former Cincinnati head coach Rick Minter).
Additionally, Holtz started teaching a class on life lessons this past spring, and he's tried to be more personable toward his players.
He's done numerous other things to spark the team, but will it pay off in any more wins?
5. Will Lou Holtz coach the Gamecocks next season?
Doesn't seem like too much of a stretch that this might be Holtz's last year if things don't go South Carolina's way early.
The Vanderbilt game is a huge swing game, as are the Georgia, Tennessee, Florida and Clemson games.
If the Gamecocks are able to get to a bowl game, chances are Holtz will be back for a couple more seasons. If not, the gold watch and more golf might be in order for the 67-year-old Augusta National Golf Club member.
- Travis Haney
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