South Carolina’s football season concluded on New Year’s Day with a 34-24 win over Big Ten opponent Wisconsin. The final minutes of the game had the Gamecock faithful chanting “S-E-C” in what has become a familiar end to the season. The Gamecocks have finished 11-2 for three years in a row and have won three straight bowl games in Florida.
Connor Shaw gave an emotional post-game speech as he celebrated the last time he would lead his school to victory. The senior signal caller will now look to prepare for the NFL Combine. Coach Steve Spurrier had glowing praise for his senior quarterback and the rest of the team.
What will 2013 be remembered as for South Carolina football? It was a year that began with SEC championship expectations and whispers of a trip to Pasadena beginning as early as last year’s bowl victory. An early setback to bitter rival Georgia, and a shocking upset by Tennessee kept the Gamecocks from winning the SEC East for the third year in a row however. It is easy to label the 2013 season as a disappointment, but there are plenty of positives to take into the offseason.
Steve Spurrier, in his ninth season as head coach, led the Gamecocks to a third consecutive 11-2 season. Before he arrived in Columbia the Gamecocks’ previous best season was a 10-2 finish in 1984. Eleven wins is an impressive mark, and only Oregon, Stanford, Alabama, and South Carolina have eleven or more wins the last three seasons. The Gamecocks have truly achieved something special that only the best of the best can match.
Being ranked in the top 25, once a feat in and of itself for South Carolina, is expected as the bare minimum now. South Carolina has been ranked in the last 71 polls. One would have to look at the preseason rankings for the 2010 season to find the last time the Gamecocks weren’t nationally ranked. This longevity in the top 25 has given this program a level confidence that has never been seen in Columbia.
Another impressive streak is South Carolina’s eighteen game win streak at home, longest active streak in the nation. The Gamecock fans have really stepped it up the last few years, and Williams Brice has become one of the toughest stadiums to play in.
There has been outside talk that this would be Spurrier’s last chance to win the SEC with South Carolina. Shaw, star defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and other key players are leaving Columbia, and the 2013 schedule was considered to be the easiest for the Gamecocks.
While South Carolina will certainly miss those that are leaving for the draft, the truth is South Carolina has a strong core of returning talent again. South Carolina had only five seniors on the team this season which was the fewest in all of FBS.
This season showed some youngsters on both sides of the ball step up and prove they will be leaders for this team next season. Tailback Mike Davis had a hot start to the season before nagging injuries occured, and he finished with 1,183 yards. Linebackers Kaiwan Lewis and Skai Moore stepped in as freshmen and immediately made an impact. Elliot Fry brought stability to a kicking game that has greatly lacked since the days of Ryan Succop. Pharoh Cooper did a little bit of everything for the Gamecocks, and Spurrier is very excited about the young play-maker’s future at South Carolina. All of these young players will help form a strong core of returning players for the Gamecocks.
2013 will be remembered as the year South Carolina football made its claim as one of the best programs in the country. The wins were already there. The dedicated and loyal fans were already there. The extremely talented coaching staff and players were already there. The missing piece that clicked in 2013 was a confidence and swagger that has brought this team to the next level.
2013 wasn’t the year South Carolina missed its last chance, but the year that the Gamecocks told the country they are here to stay.