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5 questions for the 2011 Gamecocks

The South Carolina football team is embarking on what is shaping up to be one of its most stable offseasons in recent memory, but that doesn't mean there aren't questions to be answered between now and Sept. 3, when the Gamecocks open the 2011 season at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte against East Carolina.

Here are five of them to consider:

1. What will the terrific trio do for a repeat?

Quarterback Stephen Garcia had the highest completion percentage (.642) of his career and only a few head-scratching moments. Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery set the school's single-season receiving yardage record, and running back Marcus Lattimore set the school's single-season touchdown record. All three will be back next year. Was this season a one-shot deal or the start of something special for USC's three most important offensive players?

2. Is there really a quarterback competition?

After the Gamecocks lost to Florida State in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, coach Steve Spurrier said backup quarterback Connor Shaw will have the chance to compete for the starting job in the spring. In theory, every player is competing for a starting job in the spring, so it could be just talk. However, Spurrier was irked about Garcia's throwing style, saying the quarterback needs to keep two hands on the ball longer to avoid having it slip from his hands and cause low passes. How serious a chance will Shaw get?

3. What will Feb. 2 bring?

National Signing Day could be a boon for the Gamecocks, who have a highly regarded class. Most of the elite targets on USC's wish list -- particularly Rock Hill defensive end Jadeveon Clowney -- remain undecided. If things start going USC's way in the next month, the Gamecocks could position themselves for a few more trips to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game.

4. What will the competition look like?

The SEC's Eastern Division took a mostly deserved beating in the media this season and hasn't offered a rebuttal during bowl season, going 1-3 so far. Florida is bringing in a highly regarded new coaching staff. Quarterback Aaron Murray, the second-best freshman in the SEC in 2010, returns at Georgia, where Mark Richt is facing win-or-go-home-type pressure. Tennessee will have a coach with more than a year of experience for the first time since 2008. Will the Gamecocks' division foes bounce back to provide more fight?

5. What happens at linebacker?

It might have been USC's least talked-about position all season. Former Georgia Military College teammates Josh Dickerson and Tony Straughter manned the spots admirably, if not spectacularly, after Shaq Wilson did not return from a preseason hamstring injury. Dickerson and Straughter are both gone, leaving the first shot at the starting jobs to Wilson and Rodney Paulk. If Paulk and Wilson can come back from injuries that cost them entire seasons (assistant head coach for defense Ellis Johnson said Paulk's knee slowed him throughout 2010), then the Gamecocks could go quickly from solid to strong at the position.

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