The Gamecocks officially lost their defensive mastermind this week when Ellis Johnson left to take the head coaching position at Southern Mississippi.

It shouldn't be hard to find a replacement though as plenty of names have begun to surface to take Johnson's spot on staff.

Here's a few names for you: Mike Stoops, Ron Zook, Vic Koenning, and Lorenzo Ward.

Quite an impressive list for the Gamecocks but when you have a defense that's ranked fourth nationally and will return plenty of talent in 2012 then it shouldn't be hard to find a coach who wants to come on board.

Stoops and Zook have previous history with Steve Spurrier. Zook worked as a defensive coordinator under Spurrier while at Florida and Stoops knows Spurrier from when his brother Bob worked with Coach Spurrier at Florida. Both are impressive names who are looking for their next job after being let go at Arizona and Illinois respectively. It's always nice to be able to add guys with quality head coaching experience on your staff.

Lorenzo Ward currently has the title of defensive coordinator but this has been Ellis Johnson's defense the past few years. Ward will get the on-the-job audition in the bowl game in January to see if he has what it takes. He's limited in his defensive coordinator experience but he's a guy worthy of that shot.

Vic Koenning was part of Ron Zook's staff the past few years after leaving Clemson in 2008. Koenning is known for his highly-ranked defenses and would have some ties to the state in his previous stint with the Tigers. The thing with Koenning is he reportedly is headed to North Carolina to join Larry Fedora as his defensive coordinator. He would probably listen if Coach Spurrier gave him a call though.

The odds on favorite right now looks to be Mike Stoops. Stoops has been making the rounds with the South Carolina media and spoke with The State's Josh Kendall about the position on Tuesday and said he would be very interested. He then joined Phil Kornblut on 1400 The Team radio this afternoon and seemed like he would love the opportunity to coach at South Carolina. He mentioned that money wasn't an issue here and that he was looking for a place that was like family. He respects Coach Spurrier and is close friends with Steve Spurrier Jr. as well. Stoops went on to say that his defensive style is similar to what the Gamecocks have run the past few years under Johnson with the 4-2-5 defensive scheme.

There are a lot of good things to like about Mike Stoops. His defenses at Kansas State and Oklahoma were routinely highly ranked and he's considered a defensive guru around the college ranks. He would be a prime candidate for this position and a guy that genuinely seems passionate about coaching college football.

South Carolina's defensive coordinator, whoever it might be, could have an inside shot at the head coaching position in a few years. Steve Spurrier should be expected to be here for the next three or four years and however takes over as defensive coordinator could have their eye on taking over the Gamecock program in a few short years. The person that gets this job will have a lot to work with as South Carolina recruiting is the best it has ever been and the returning young talent that should keep the Gamecocks in the top national rankings.

No timetable has been given for this next hire but you can imagine it will happen shortly after the bowl game. You want a guy in place to finish up the recruiting class and to get a jump start on the 2013 recruiting class. Stoops has interest from several schools right now but said today he hopes to have something in place by the second week in January. He could be the guy. The way he was talking on the radio today made it seem like he was campaigning for the position.

Or it could be Ron Zook, Lorenzo Ward, or some other coach we haven't heard yet. The last few Spurrier hires have been a little out of left field like Shawn Elliott.

Just know that this opening will draw a ton of interest and Coach Spurrier will have plenty of resumes to go through.

The South Carolina defense will not skip a beat and the next guy in line will continue to build on what Ellis Johnson started.

It's a good thing too. The SEC is a pretty tough conference.