South Carolina Football: Setting the standard

The University of South Carolina is currently enjoying its best run in school history in many sports.

Steve Spurrier, who surprised many by choosing to coach in Columbia nine years ago, is responsibile for much of the success that the Gamecocks have had.  Before his arrival on campus, the Gamecocks were mired in mediocrity in football and most of the other sports at the university.

Spurrier was not going to let that trend continue, and he finally turned the football program around.  South Carolina did become a powerhouse in football, but it was a hard fought transition.

South Carolina had back to back 7-6 seasons in 2008 and 2009 that didn’t exactly impress anyone on the field, but they were the beginning of something great in Columbia.

Carolina finally began to win the recruiting battle in the state of South Carolina.  Stephon Gilmore and Alshon Jeffery had arrived in Columbia, and for the first time USC was the school that Palmetto State stars wanted to go to.  Spurrier was obviously pleased with getting those two players, but nobody would have predicted what was to come next.

2010 saw the South Carolina Gamecocks win their first SEC East title.  The trend of picking up South Carolina’s high school stars continued with top ranked running back Marcus Lattimore.  Lattimore had a stellar freshman campaign in which he earned National Freshman of the Year honors.  Lattimore rushed the Gamecocks to the SEC Championship Game and also a midseason win over #1 Alabama.  Finishing with a 9-5 record that included two loses to Cam Newton and eventual National Champions Auburn, the Gamecocks finally had a swagger about themselves on the football field.

2011 brought the top rated prospect to Columbia.  Defensive end Jadeveon Clowney was the latest of South Carolina stars to play for their state.  Clowney wasn’t even a starter day one in Columbia as Melvin Ingram and Devin Taylor anchored a monster defensive line.

The Gamecocks suffered adversity in 2011 with quarterback Stephen Garcia being dismissed and Marcus Lattimore suffering a season ending injury against Mississippi State.  Despite these troubles, the Gamecocks had their best season in school history.  A win in the Capital One Bowl gave the Gamecocks an 11-2 record and top ten finish.

2012 resulted with another 11-2 record as did 2013.  By then, the winning mentality of the football team had spread to the whole school.  The baseball team, led by Ray Tanner, won two national championships in 2010 and 2011 and lost in the final series in 2012.  The Gamecocks have consistently been ranked in the top ten since and are currently ranked third in the nation with a 23-3 record.

The women’s basketball team just completed their best season in school history with a regular season SEC championship and a #1 seeding in the NCAA tournament.  Coach Dawn Staley won SEC Coach of the Year.  Tiffany Mitchell garnered SEC Player of the Year honors while Alaina Coates won SEC Freshman of the Years.  The team created a buzz in Columbia for basketball that has never really been seen before.

The men’s basketball team struggled this year, but showed improvement under Frank Martin.  Martin has been in the game for decades and given enough time, he could certainly pull off a transformation similar to Spurrier’s.  Freshman Sindarius Thornwell, winner of best name award, is a rare talent, and the Gamecocks could build a successful team around him in the next few years.

These are the good times in Columbia, and the football team has done a lot to bring a winning mentality to the city.  Spurrier and company are not done yet though, and the Gamecocks will do their best next season to win the school’s first SEC Championship.