There was no better example of just how far South Carolina had to come than when the school joined the Southeastern Conference, which led to the revival of the series with Florida.
Before 1992, the Gamecocks had a respectable 3-6-3 record in 12 meetings, but it would be a long stretch of 13 games before Carolina claimed victory again. Steve Spurrier had arrived in Gainesville the year before, and he promptly began dominating SEC programs that were a lot better and that had more tradition than USC.
After a close 14-9 game in 1992, the point differential over the next 12 games was never less than 11, and included 63-7 ('95) and 54-17 ('01) thumpings.
After more than a decade of hard lessons in what it takes to be competitive in the best football conference in America, coach Spurrier took over in 2005 and started to change the culture of USC's program, as I was changing my opinion of him.
Now, I always had tremendous respect for his coaching ability. The things he accomplished at Duke, including leading the Blue Devils to an unimaginable ACC Championship (1989), was evidence of that fact. As the old saying goes, “He can take his and beat yours and take yours and beat his.” He proved that, when his first USC team beat his alma mater.
Like a lot of fans, though, I thought he was often guilty at Florida of running up the score on weaker opponents, but his answer to that accusation completely changed my perspective. “The second and third guys practice our offense all week,” the HBC said. “It's not fair to send them out there, and tell them just to run the ball.” That explanation made perfect sense to me.
If I were to compile a list of my all-time favorite Gamecock wins, it would be dominated by victories over our upstate opponent, but it would also include the 1983 beat down of Southern Cal, the 1984 win over Notre Dame in South Bend and the 2010 game in the “Swamp.”
You had to be in the Florida stands, in order to fully appreciate how special it was to see the Gamecocks, not just win, but completely dominate the Gators in that formidable venue.
That game was memorable in so many ways. First and foremost, it clinched USC's first Eastern Division Championship. It was an upset of No. 24 Florida by No. 22 Carolina.
Marcus Lattimore ran 40 times for 212 yards and three touchdowns. Quarterback Stephen Garcia had one of the best games of his career: 15-of-22 passing for 156 yards, one rushing touchdown, with no turnovers.
The game opened with a little drama when UF's Andre Debose returned the opening kickoff 99 yards for a TD, but an indication that this was going to be Carolina's night was the performance of the defense. The rest of the first quarter, the Gators ran 18 plays for just 51 yards, didn't convert a third down, punted five times, and were penalized five times.
The Gamecock's offense only managed a Lattimore TD and three Spenser Lanning field goals to lead 15-7 at the half. But at intermission, you could sense from the body language of the Florida fans, they knew their Gators were in trouble.
Those feelings were confirmed when USC took the second half kickoff and drove 72 yards in eight plays, with Lattimore scoring on a 21-yard run, that was a cutting, weaving thing of beauty. When the Gamecocks scored early in the fourth quarter to go up 29-7, the Swamp started drying up. Both teams added a score but the 36-14 final was yet another sign that Coach Spurrier and his staff had recruited the talent to be competitive in one of the country's best programs.
The Gamecocks made it two in a row in 2011, which had happened only once before in the late '30s.
Last season the Gators took the measure of the Gamecocks winning 44-11 in the Swamp. While Coach Spurrier contends that the team hasn't talked much about last year's game, you can bet the returning players haven't forgotten the score.
The Gators are struggling big time this season after suffering a rash of injuries. Ten players, including their starting quarterback have been lost for the season, and they come into Williams-Brice Saturday night on a four-game losing streak. But there is nothing more dangerous than a wounded Gator.
As I have contended for years, depth is essential to survival in the SEC. To have a chance to win, a team needs 40 to 45 players, not just bodies, but players who can contribute in significant ways.
On the other hand the Gamecocks are as healthy as they have been all season and should have the firepower to take down the Gators in the Cock Pit and keep themselves in the hunt for their second Eastern Division title.
It's a great time to be a Gamecock!