By Rixon Lane
South Carolina is coming off its worst SEC record since 2009, going 3-5 in the conference last season.
While the Gamecocks have plenty of question marks entering the 2015 campaign, there are reasons to be optimistic about South Carolina's chances at an SEC title.
Here are the biggest weaknesses for all eight of South Carolina's conference opponents this season.
Kentucky - Defensive Line
The Wildcats lost three defensive linemen, Bud Dupree, Za'Darius Smith and Mike Douglas, off of last year's unit that allowed over 190 rushing yards per game in 2014. Senior nose tackle Melvin Lewis is the only returning starter on Kentucky's line. The Wildcats lost over half of their sacks from last season and over 35% of its tackles for loss. South Carolina should be able to beat Kentucky if it just does what it should have done in the final eight minutes of last year's game...run the ball.
Georgia - Quarterback
Hutson Mason is gone and the Bulldogs now have a two-way race for the most important position on the field. Sophomore Brice Ramsey and junior Faton Bauta will battle it out for the starting quarterback job after freshman Jacob Park decided to leave Athens. The Bulldogs ranked in the top 10 in scoring offense last season and averaged over 41 points per game, but new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer will have to find a quarterback fast. South Carolina's revamped defensive line must get pressure on the new Georgia signal-caller.
Missouri - Receivers
None of Missouri's returning wide receivers caught six passes during the 2014 season. The Tigers may be one of the few teams in the conference who are thinner at wideout than the Gamecocks. Missouri's passing game only averaged 189.1 yards per game last season, but it may be hard to duplicate those numbers without any proven receivers. Maty Mauk is one of the league's most experienced quarterbacks, but he has struggled with accuracy and will need capable wide receivers. The Gamecock secondary should be able to contain Missouri's passing attack.
LSU - Defensive Line
It's weird to imagine an LSU team that's a little weak in the trenches, but that's the reality for the Bayou Bengals. Defensive whiz John Chavis has departed for College Station and LSU must replace both defensive ends. Marquedius Bain was moved from defensive tackle to end and must learn his new position quickly. The Tigers had an incredibly stout defense last season, but weren't outstanding against the run. LSU's new defensive coordinator is Kevin Steele, who oversaw Clemson's 70-33 Orange Bowl fiasco South Carolina should pound the rock against the Tigers.
Vanderbilt - Secondary
The Commodores return all four starters in the secondary, but Vanderbilt gave up 218 yards per game and 19 touchdowns through the air last season. Only Texas A&M picked off fewer passes in 2014 than Vanderbilt, as the Commodores managed six interceptions in 12 games. Head coach Derek Mason must find a way to improve it's pass defense if it hopes to have any chance of improving on last season's 3-9 record and winless mark in the SEC. Connor Mitch and Pharoh Cooper should feast on the Commodores.
Texas A&M - Linebackers
All three of Texas A&M's projected starters at linebacker, Shaan Washington, Josh Walker and A.J. Hilliard, missed the spring with injuries. The Aggies allowed over 450 yards per game last season and new coordinator John Chavis needs stability in the middle of his defense. South Carolina has bad memories of last year's meeting with Texas A&M, but the Gamecock offense should have it chances against the Aggies, especially on the ground.
Tennessee - Offensive Line
The Volunteers bring back all five starters from last year's squad, but Tennessee surrendered 43 sacks last season, most in the SEC. The escapability of Josh Dobbs may improve that number this season, but the Volunteers clearly need help up front. Tackles Kyler Kerbyson and Brett Kendrick are fairly unproven. South Carolina's defensive line should turn up the heat against the Vols.
Florida - Special Teams
Florida has to replace Andre Debose, one of the most electrifying return men in college football, and punter Kyle Christy. Austin Hardin entered the spring as the team's only scholarship kicker after the graduation of Frankie Velez. Special teams played a huge part in last season's contest (hello, Carlton Heard) and the Gamecocks should have the edge once again in 2015.