It's time for the Battle Of Columbia(s)!
The dotted black line is the school's ten-year average.
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(Original helmet photo via NationalChamps.net)
Before they were in the ACC, South Carolina was 0-8 all-time in bowl games and had finished in the final AP poll just three times (1958, 1984, 1987), never in the Top 10. At one point, they went 75 years between eight-win seasons. If the Gamecocks can make in the SEC, so can Missouri. And by all means, it appears South Carolina is making it in the SEC.
Worst 10-Year Span
1927-36. Despite a general lack of success overall, and despite only recent SEC membership, South Carolina shares a somewhat similar early history to quite a few SEC peers: stink for most of the first half of the 20th century, then pull it together in the 1950s. The Gamecocks were reasonably successful in the Southern Conference in the 1920s -- they went 20-10 from 1924-26, outscoring Clemson 60-0 in this span and allowing just 27 points in 1925. But when Branch Bocock left following the 1927 season, things went sour. Harry Lightsey took over in 1927 and went 4-5. Billy Laval was hired in 1928 and put together decent records while beating absolutely nobody. Over the next decade, the Gamecocks would go 11-30-5 versus teams that finished with a winning record and 41-16-2 against teams that didn't. After seven years with Laval, Don McCallister went 13-20-1 in three years (1935-37), then Rex Enright came to town. He saw little pre-war success -- Carolina went just 17-27-4 in five seasons -- but after the war, the program thought enough of him to bring him back.
A former Notre Dame (and Green Bay Packers) running back, Enright spent 10 more years in Columbia after the war and enjoyed success in spurts. His team went 11-5-1 in 1946-47, and after a few down years, they went 13-7 in 1953-54 in the newly-formed ACC, finding themselves briefly ranked in both years. He retired for health reasons, and the Rex Enright Athletic Center is now named after him. Enright hired 31-year old Warren Giese as his replacement. Giese led the 'Cocks to two 7-3 seasons (1956, 1958), and Carolina finished in the AP polls for the first time, coming in at No. 15 in 1958. But after a poor 1960 season (3-6-1), he was replaced. He would become a Physical Education professor at the university and, eventually, a South Carolina state senator.
From there, the success was spotty. Marvin Bass went just 17-29-4 in five seasons and was replaced by coach Paul Dietzel, who had left a great LSU program to revive Army, failed, and landed in Columbia. He didn't do too much better -- Carolina made the Peach Bowl in 1969 and found itself briefly ranked in both 1970-71, but his tenure ended in 1974 after three losing seasons in five years. Jim Carlen took over and did a little better -- in seven years, they were ranked for parts of four seasons and went to three bowl games; Carlen also brought George Rogers to town. Rogers rushed for 1,781 yards in 1980, won the Heisman Trophy, and had his number retired at halftime on Senior Day 1980. He gained at least 100 yards in each of his final 22 games as a Gamecock, which ... wow.
Following Rogers' departure, South Carolina faded again. They fell from 8-4 to 6-6 in Carlen's last season, went 4-7 in one year under Richard Bell, and suffered from bipolarity during the Joe Morrison years. A 13-year NFL veteran, Morrison came to South Carolina from New Mexico after he led the Lobos to a 10-1 campaign in 1982. In 1984, 1987 and 1988, his Gamecocks went 26-10. They finished 11th in 1984 -- they reached as high as No. 2 before a stunning upset loss to a Navy team that finished 4-6-1 -- and 15th in 1987. In 1983, 1985 and 1986, meanwhile, they went 13-18-2. Still, hopes were high heading into 1989, but Morrison suffered a heart attack playing racquetball in February 1989 and died at age 51.
Morrison was replaced by Appalachian State head coach Sparky Woods, who led the Gamecocks into the SEC but never got traction. Carolina won six games in each of his first two seasons, but his tenure ended after just 13 wins in three seasons; he went just 5-11 in conference play in two SEC seasons. Florida State offensive coordinator Brad Scott took over, but he didn't last long either. Carolina went 7-5 in his first season and finally pulled in their first bowl win (24-21 over West Virginia in the Carquest Bowl) ... then went 15-17-1 in the next three years ... then went 1-10 in 1998.
The program was in bad enough shape at the end of the Brad Scott era that not even Lou Holtz could do anything about it at first. Holtz had retired from Notre Dame following the 1996 season, but after two seasons of rest, he landed in Columbia and promptly went 0-11 in his first season. But for all of his negative traits (in the 1970s, Holtz was every bit the job hopper that Bobby Petrino was, only he had a much more forgivable public persona ... and didn't ride motorcycles), Lou Holtz could coach. He engineered a 7.5-game turnaround in 1999, going 8-4 and pasting No. 19 Ohio State, 24-7, in the Outback Bowl. In 2001, he did it all again; the Gamecocks went 9-3 and once again beat the Buckeyes in Tampa. They finished 13th in the AP poll in 2001, their second-highest poll finish ever, behind just 1984.
Best 10-Year Span
2002-11. Holtz's success was short-lived, however. His bag of tricks was evidently empty following 2001, and South Carolina went just 16-19 in his final three seasons. He retired for good following the 2004 season (in his final game, South Carolina and Clemson got into a nasty brawl) ... and then the Ol' Ball Coach came to town.
It is quite possible that Steve Spurrier is the greatest coach in the history of two different SEC East programs. You could certainly make a case for Urban Meyer at Florida (Meyer won two national titles to Spurrier's one), and you could make a case for Holtz, Enright or, possibly, Morrison at South Carolina. But wins are wins, and Spurrier has racked up a lot at both places. Following an ill-fated sojourn to the NFL coaching ranks, Spurrier returned to college football in 2005 and immediately made something out of Holtz's scraps. With a new offense, a new quarterback and a new running back, Carolina went 7-5 in 2005, losing to some no-name team in the Independence Bowl. It took Spurrier a little while to do much better than that -- they went 8-5, 6-6, 7-6 and 7-6 over the next four years -- but the program took a demonstrable step forward in 2010.
By 2010, Spurrier had begun to compile quite a bit of blue-chip talent. He still hasn't recruited as well as he did in his Florida days, but he's gotten somewhere. With freshman running back Marcus Lattimore and sophomore receiver Alshon Jeffery lined up wide in 2010, South Carolina beat No. 1 Alabama, 35-21, on October 9, won at Florida in November, and won their first ever SEC East title. They finished just 22nd in the polls following losses to Auburn (in the SEC title game) and Florida State (Chick-Fil-A Bowl), but it was still a tremendous breakthrough. And in 2011, despite quarterback issues (Stephen Garcia officially went off the rails) and an injury to Lattimore, the Gamecocks won 11 games for the first time in their history, going 11-2, whipping Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl and finishing ninth in the country. They might not have been quite as good as their record -- they were 4-1 in one-possession games, and their F/+ rating was actually higher in 2010 -- but it's clear Spurrier has made serious progress in the last two years.
#2 Sterling Sharpe (1983, 85-87)
Sharpe, wore #2, is the school's all-time leading receiver with 169 catches for 2,497 yards and 17 touchdowns. Sharpe had his jersey retired following the 1987 regular season. He became only the second Gamecock to have his jersey retired while he was still active at the school. In fact, both Sharpe and George Rogers played in the Gator Bowl in their final collegiate game. Sharpe was a number one draft pick by the Green Bay Packers.
#37 Steve Wadiak (1948-51)
Wadiak wore #37 for Carolina and was the first to have his number retired after a tragic automobile accident claimed his life. Wadiak, who still appears throughout the South Carolina record book, was the school's all-time rushing leader for 28 years after his senior season.
#38 George Rogers (1977-80)
Probably the school's most well known player was also USC's Heisman Trophy winner - George Rogers. He had his #38 retired during halftime ceremonies at Carolina's final 1980 home game. Rogers was the first USC player to have his jersey retired while still active at the school.
#56 Mike Johnson (1964)
Center Mike Johnson, #56, became gravely ill before the start of his junior season, and the illness cut short a potentially great football career. Johnson had finished his sophomore campaign as the regular center. When he died in 1965, his number was retired.
Williams-Brice rises out of a sea of concrete next to the South Carolina State Fairgrounds, separated just a bit from the university campus. It held 54,000 three decades ago, it holds 80,250 now, and it held 85,000 for the 2001 Clemson game. Season tickets have been sold out for each of the last seven seasons. It hosted a visit from the Pope in 1987, it hosted the filming of The Program in 1993, it hosted the Rolling Stones in 1994, and now it hosts a pretty damn good football team, too.
South Carolina On YouTube
Ten semi-random highlights via the YouTubes:
(Full 2012 Capital One Bowl here.)
View their statistical profile here. Spurrier has some rebuilding to do on the defensive side of the ball, but he does get Marcus Lattimore back.
Five Interesting Returnees On Offense
RB Marcus Lattimore (6'0, 232, Jr.) (818 yards, 5.0 per carry, 10 TDs; 19 receptions despite injury-shortened season)
QB Connor Shaw (1,448 yards, 6.2 per attempt, 65% completion rate, 14 TD, 6 INT)
C T.J. Johnson (6'5, 316, Sr.) (40 career starts)
WR Ace Sanders (383 receiving yards, 8.7 per target, 66% catch rate)
LG A.J. Cann (6'3, 299, So.) (13 starts as a four-star freshman)
Five Interesting Returnees On Defense
DE Jadeveon Clowney (6'6, 254, Jr.) (12.0 TFL, 8.0 sacks, 5 FF)
SS DeVonte Holloman (6'2, 232, Sr.) (4.0 TFL, 1 INT, 4 PBU)
DE Devin Taylor (6'7, 260, Sr.) (8.5 TFL, 6.0 sacks, 1 INT, 2 PBU)
MLB Shaq Wilson (5'11, 223, Sr.) (5.0 TFL, 2 PBU)
WLB Quin Smith (6'1, 238, Sr.) (6.0 TFL)
Missouri's All-Time Series Versus South Carolina
Another series lead. Seriously, Missouri should have joined the SEC a long time ago...
- December 29, 1979 (Hall Of Fame Classic): Missouri 24, South Carolina 14
In Mizzou's last trip to Birmingham, they had produced one of their most stunning upsets -- a 20-7 domination of #2 Alabama. Four years later, they didn't face down quite the same opportunity, but it was opportunity nonetheless. After a season of near-misses and one of the most disheartening Octobers in Mizzou history (and there are plenty to choose from), Warren Powers' Tigers got a chance to take on a ranked team in a stadium (Legion Field) that had produced good memories in the past, and they did not pass up the chance to create a few good memories to lead into 1980.
South Carolina had gotten to #16 in the country powered by the legs of George Rogers, whose 1,681 yards both raised his profile for a 1980 Heisman run. Since being dominated by North Carolina in the season opener, the Gamecocks had gone 8-2 with losses to just #14 Notre Dame (18-17) and #7 Florida State (27-7), and wins over five teams that would finish with winning records -- Western Michigan, Georgia, Oklahoma State, N.C. State, Wake Forest, and Clemson. They faced a daunting schedule and half-conquered it, and they had defeated teams better than Missouri in 1979.
It was 50 degrees and rainy at kickoff, and as was typical for Mizzou, they did not start particularly fast. South Carolina surprised Mizzou with a no-huddle look on their opening possession, and after Rogers drove them down the field, Garry Harper found Zion McKinney for a 20-yard score. Less than four minutes into the game, it was 6-0 South Carolina (they attempted a surprise two-point conversion and failed). That was all the Mizzou defense would allow for a while, but the offense couldn't mount much of a challenge.
It was still 6-0 midway through the second quarter when Mizzou finally struck with a sustained drive. They went 82 yards but stalled inside the S.C. 10. Shaky Ron Verrilli's 22-yard field goal cut the 'Cock lead to 6-3, but it wouldn't stay that way for long. South Carolina fumbled the ensuing kickoff, and Mizzou's Johnnie Poe came up with the recovery. The very next play, David Newman caught a 28-yard Phil Bradley pass for Mizzou's first touchdown, and after a rather stagnant first 25 minutes, Mizzou had scored 10 points in 14 seconds to take a 10-6 lead.
That score also wouldn't last long; South Carolina quickly had to punt after a huge sack of Harper backed them up to their 5. In a year where special teams rarely benefited the Tigers -- a blocked punt for touchdown all but ended the Texas game, they missed four field goals against Oklahoma State, they missed another three against Oklahoma -- it allowed them to seize control of the Hall of Fame Bowl. The Gamecocks' punter, standing in his own wet endzone, unleashed a duck that only managed to get to the SC 30-yard line. Seven plays later, Bradley plunged in from a yard out, and after allowing the favored Gamecocks to hold steady for much of the first half, they took a commanding 17-6 lead into halftime.
Of course, SC really was a good team, and George Rogers really was a good back. After being hemmed in (and popped down!) after the game's opening drive, Rogers got going again in SC's first drive of the second half. Harper capped a 62-yard scoring drive with an 11-yard scramble, then found McKinney in the endzone once again for the two-point conversion. The Gamecocks were back within three points, at 17-14.
It was win time in Birmingham -- the next score would dictate how the rest of the game played out, and after a Mizzou punt, the Tiger defense made its move. Linebacker Eric Berg, the defensive MVP of the 1978 Liberty Bowl, stepped up huge once again. He picked off a Harper pass and returned it inside the SC 30, a play that earned him defensive MVP for the second straight bowl game (just call him the Tony Temple of the Mizzou defense). A few plays later, senior Gerry Ellis broke through the line and scored from 11 yards out. He would end up with 41 yards on 17 tough carries, and Mizzou would take a comfortable 24-14 lead.
The fourth quarter was all about playing keep away. Though Rogers would end up with 133 yards on 25 carries, and Harper would complete 13 of 19 passes, the Gamecocks never seriously threatened again. James Wilder and his 95 rushing yards helped eat up much of the fourth quarter (he would miss out on Offensive MVP honors, which went to Bradley), and amid the raindrops and 62,000 spectators in Birmingham, Mizzou won by 10.
Clearly they should have played more games at Legion Field.
- December 30, 2005 (Independence Bowl): Missouri 38, South Carolina 31
In the middle of the afternoon of Friday, December 30, 2005, Mizzou was getting its ass kicked in Shreveport, plain and simple. They were losing 21-0 to South Carolina, and the Gamecocks were driving, ball at the Mizzou 16. Mizzou had 63 yards of offense. A friend of mine texted me that they were chanting "Fire Pinkel" and "Gary Barnett" in the bar in which he was watching the game. I was the most steadfast Pinkel supporter I knew of, but even I found myself saying "I'm not saying they should fire Pinkel, but if they do I guess I can't complain much."
After the debacle of the 2004 season, in which a Mizzou team picked by some to win the North division for the first time had blown a series of leads and failed to make a bowl game, Gary Pinkel had needed a homerun in '05, and that was before Aaron O'Neal's death and the iffy press coverage that followed. Brad Smith's senior season produced a few good memories--whipping Nebraska, making a dramatic comeback against ISU, putting up ridiculous yards against teams like Arkansas State and Troy.
But more teams were able to employ the "Stopping Brad Smith" blueprint perfected by Kansas, and MU followed up a discouraging non-conference loss to New Mexico and a whoopin' by a wonderful Texas team with annoying trip-ups to KU (13-3) and Colorado (41-12). And though they had clinched a bowl at 6-4, they blew a lead and lost to K-State in the season finale (36-28). Everything that had haunted Mizzou in 2004--blown leads, offensive progress randomly screeching to a halt, defensive breakdowns, iffy play-calling--was still managing to trip Mizzou up, and with Brad Smith leaving, the future was in doubt.
And Mizzou was heading back to Shreveport, with little to no fan interest.
Meanwhile, South Carolina's turnaround had begun. Lou Holtz had managed some success in Columbia, SC, but his last three years were mediocre, and he had announced his retirement in November 2004. The Gamecocks had pulled of a supposed coup by luring Steve Spurrier back into the college ranks with pretty golf courses and a fresh SEC gig, and after a 2-3 start to the '05 season, SC had ripped off five straight wins before a season-ending loss to Clemson. Sophomore QB Blake Mitchell was looking good, RSFr WR Sidney Rice was looking great. The defense was hard-hitting. The future was bright, to say the least.
A quarter-and-a-half into the Independence Bowl, it seems like the game was just a formality and a coronation of a new SEC power. Faster and physically dominant, the 'Cocks were about to go up 28-0...only Mitchell threw his first bad pass of the game, and Marcus King made an easy pick. With a convoy ahead of him, he took it 99 yards for a TD, and it was 21-7. It was a mere speedbump, however, as South Carolina responded with a 7-play, 64-yard TD drive, and it was 28-7. After a trade of punts, Mizzou got the ball with 1:53 left in the first half, and it was time for Brad Smith to knock the shackles off of the Mizzou offense.
A 23-yard pass to Martin Rucker. A 10-yarder to Tommy Saunders. A gorgeous 31-yarder to Will Franklin. A 5-yard fade route TD to Chase Coffman. With 0:14 left in Q2, it was 28-14, Mizzou was getting the ball to start the second half, and we had ourselves a ballgame after all. But Mizzou wasn't through with the setbacks yet. A methodical 8-minute drive ended with Adam Crossett missing a chipshot FG. Mizzou was still down 14 with 22 minutes left.
As night began to fall over lovely Shreveport, Louisiana, Mizzou forced a punt and took over at their 15 with 5:00 left in Q3. This is where things started happening quickly. A 30-yard pass to Coffman and a 32-yard run by #16 quickly made things 28-21. Then Derrick Ming intercepted Mitchell. Another 2-minute TD drive ended with a 4-yard TD run by Bad Brad on 4th down. Tie game. Three-and-out by South Carolina. A 50-yard FG by Adam "boom or bust" Crossett. Suddenly, despite a long bout with offensive ineptitude and numerous crippling setbacks, Mizzou was up 31-28 with 10 minutes left.
But South Carolina managed to get off the mat themselves. A 13-play, 6:00 drive got them in FG range, and a Josh Brown chip shot tied the game at 31-31. In response, Brad Smith ripped off a 60-yard run to the SC 18. Three plays later, it was another TD for #16, and with 2:05 left, Mizzou was up 38-31. In the last 30 minutes of play, Mizzou had outscored the Gamecocks 31-3, and that was despite the scoreless 7-minute drive to start the second half.
After a nice kickoff return, SC quickly had the ball back in Mizzou territory with 90 seconds left, but sophomore Darnell Terrell jumped a slant route and picked off Mitchell's final pass of the evening, and it was over. What seemed like the stage for a coronation a couple hours earlier had turned into Gary Pinkel's finest hour. Missouri had not only pulled themselves off the mat, but they had registered a knockout blow of their own. And Pinkel had outdueled The Ol' Ball Coach.