Steve Spurrier has spoken of South Carolina’s history to his current team, but the words sink in only so much when compared with the team’s recent success.
While all of the players can look at USC’s past, why would they? They’re here at a time when wins are much more frequent, and they don’t need to bother looking at old statistics and line scores when they’re part of the biggest wave of success the program has had.
Expectations haven’t always been as grand as they are this season. Looking back in 10-year increments:
2002 record: 5-7
After 17 wins in two seasons and consecutive Outback Bowl victories, Lou Holtz’s fourth team slipped to a losing year, capped by five straight losses in 2002. The focus in 2003 was to get that one win that was missing in 2002 to grab a third bowl game in four seasons.
“We returned a good bit of players off of that team,” said John Strickland, who became a mainstay at center. “We had pretty high expectations. Our goals were to win eight games, win the East, beat Clemson and go to a bowl.”
USC was on the cusp, claiming its fifth win of the season on Oct. 25. But four straight losses followed to leave the Gamecocks one win short of bowl eligibility.
The worst was a 63-17 loss to Clemson. “Almost seemed like some of the guys gave up on that one,” Strickland said.
2003 record: 5-7. Holtz coached one more season and then retired. Spurrier was hired and hasn’t had a losing record in his first eight seasons.
1992 record: 5-6
Stumbling along in their first season in the SEC at 0-5, having been blown out 48-7 at Alabama the week before, the team voted for coach Sparky Woods to quit and let him know about it. Woods told his players he’d see them at practice.
But the program rebounded behind a brash freshman quarterback from Pennsylvania. Steve Taneyhill led USC to five victories in its final six games, including the first victory over Clemson in four years, and expectations skyrocketed for the next year.
“With the way the season ended in ’92, and definitely how it started in ’93, I’m pretty sure we all thought we were going to have a great season,” said Taneyhill, who now coaches at Union County High.
The 1993 season started with one of the biggest plays in program history, Brandon Bennett leaping over the pile for a touchdown to beat Georgia. The momentum didn’t last. USC lost four of its final five games.
“I think everybody was excited, especially how it ended in ’92,” Taneyhill said. “And because of that, Maybe we didn’t work as hard as we should have coming into that year,” Taneyhill said. “I’m not saying we didn’t work, but we all could have worked a bit harder to get prepared, self included. We had that one win to start, then lost a bunch of games we were winning in the fourth quarter.”
1993 record: 4-7. Woods was fired and Brad Scott was hired. He led USC to its first bowl win the next season.
1982 record: 4-7
Senior kicker Mark Fleetwood was about to play for his third coach in three seasons. It was understandable that he would have low expectations for a turnaround.
But there was a new coach, the guy who dressed all in black, who told his new team that it would win big and win soon.
“The way they presented themselves, the positive vibe that they gave,” said Fleetwood, now the coach at Peachtree Ridge (Ga.) High. “It felt like something good was getting ready to happen.”
Joe Morrison took one year to get on track.
“We had the likes of Kent Hagood, Thomas Dendy, James Seawright, you go down the line. It wasn’t like we were without,” Fleetwood said. “Yes, I did have big expectations, even in 1983.”
1983 record: 5-6. Morrison led USC to its first 10-win season the next year, a loss to Navy preventing the Gamecocks from playing for the national championship.
1972 record: 4-7
Coach Paul Dietzel decided to shake up his system after the program had one winning season since its 1969 ACC championship year.
“They changed and went to the Veer,” said Jeff Grantz, still regarded by many as the greatest USC quarterback. “I told coach (Bobby) Richardson after baseball season that I wanted to go jump in there and run the football, because I thought I could win the starting QB job.”
But expectations were low. “I guess you would, say, we didn’t know,” Grantz laughed. “We had a brand-new offense, we had a lot of new offensive people.”
With the magician Grantz running the show, the Gamecocks won four of their first six games and finished the season with three straight victories.
1973 record: 7-4. Dietzel announced that he would step down after an upset loss to Duke in the second game of the 1974 season. Jim Carlen was hired.