Just like at running back, the most intriguing story line for the quarterback position during preseason camp will be the probable passionate battle among several candidates for the No. 2 job behind entrenched starter Connor Shaw.
Not only will that be the case in 2012, but next year as well since Shaw is entering his junior season and should retain his role as the starting signal-caller unless he is seriously injured or performs poorly. If the final three games of the 2011 season accurately gauge Shaw's future performance, the latter won't happen.
So, who will earn the right to be Shaw's top backup? One thing is certain - despite their relative inexperience, there should be no shortage of candidates willing to fill the role, starting with redshirt sophomore Dylan Thompson, who solidified his status as the No. 2 quarterback exiting spring practice.
Thompson appeared in four games last season, completing both pass attempts for 17 yards.
"I know I can count on Dylan because I know his work ethic and what he does to make himself a better player," USC quarterbacks coach G.A. Mangus told Gamecock Central on Thursday. "He threw the ball as well as he ever has this past spring. He ended with a pretty good spring game to finish the spring out.
"Physically and mentally, he has to get himself ready. He got forced into the Capital One Bowl when Connor got hurt on the penalty, so he has to be mentally prepared that could happen at any time. He's a mentally strong kid, so it's not something I'm concerned about."
Coach Steve Spurrier revealed Thursday at his annual media golf outing in Blythewood that Andrew Clifford will remain with the Gamecocks after being 'encouraged' to transfer and should receive a scholarship in his fourth year with the program.
Clifford has appeared in just three games and attempted four passes in his career with one touchdown pass.
"It's always nice to have a veteran who's been around even though he hasn't played a lot," Mangus said. "I know he will do whatever he needs to do to get himself ready in case his number gets called."
Senior walk-on Seth Strickland, the holder on field goals for the past two seasons, could finally see his dedication rewarded shortly with a scholarship before the season starts.
Could talented redshirt freshman Tanner McEvoy, a physical specimen at 6-foot-6, leap to No. 2 on the backup depth by the end of preseason camp? Mangus doesn't rule it out.
"He looks good," Mangus said. "I'm anxious to see where he's at. He had a lot to work on this summer and we'll see where that progression goes. He had a very good spring game and made some plays. He showed some athleticism. He is a very talented young man. He's a lot like Connor was when he first got here. He just needs to play and get reps and the game will slow down for him. He has a bright future."
Even though Brendan Nosovitch threw for 9,249 yards and 106 touchdowns in his high school career (both statistics are second all-time in the state of Pennsylvania), he is expected to undergo the same growing pains as most young quarterbacks trying to make the enormous leap from prep to major college football.
As a young quarterback, Nosovitch must adjust to the realities of Division I college football and understand he will likely redshirt, meaning his number of practice reps should be very limited in preseason camp and he will likely serve as the scout team quarterback for 2012.
Also, Nosovitch didn't join the program until the second session of summer school in July, so he has only been on campus for about three weeks.
"Brendan has a lot to learn. But the nice thing is, he has a lot of time right now," Mangus said. "I respect his work ethic because I know what it was like coming out of high school. It was a big reason why we recruited him. I know he will put in the time to learn."
None of the potential backups appear ready to yield even an inch to their counterparts in the fight to gain a spot on the two-deep depth chart behind Shaw at quarterback.
"Based on what I've heard from (strength and conditioning coach) Joe Connolly, they've worked hard and put a lot of time in this summer," Mangus said. "It goes back to your main leader, Connor. They all get in line and follow. I'm always anxious to get out there next week and see the benefits of summer and how hard they've worked."
Being the undisputed No. 1 quarterback, Shaw's leadership skills have been tested over the past two months as he became one of the leaders in summer workouts for the first time.
In addition, for the first time in his USC career, Shaw is the one being chased by the competition instead of vice versa. Mentally, that's a big adjustment and Mangus is eager to see how Shaw handles the starring role in preseason camp as the pressure to prepare for a real game - and a conference tilt to boot - builds with each practice.
"He has a comfort level of where he's at," Mangus said. "What you want to look for is how will they handle that when they know going into the season they are the incumbent starter. This is his first time going through that. But he has handled it wonderfully. He was a well-prepared young man coming out of high school from his father, who is a very good coach and a great father.
"Connor carries himself very well and he has become one of the focal points of the leadership in the locker room. The other guys like him, they play for him and they gravitate to him. He's a good leader and good player. I know his expectation is to have a very good year."
Both Spurrier and Mangus hope Shaw is able to take the next step as a quarterback and compete for all-conference honors, although the competition around the conference in 2012 is formidable.
"Connor finished last year very well and gives all of us quite a bit of hope of not only where we're going, but where we can go in the future because he has a couple of years left," Mangus said. "He will continue to get better. He has the work ethic to make himself better and he knows what his ultimate goals are. I know he'll do everything to reach them."
For in-depth coverage of Gamecock sports and recruiting, GamecockCentral.com.