David Cloninger

South Carolina-Clemson rivalry breakdown: Can the sun rise Saturday?

Can hope ever truly be gone?
Can hope ever truly be gone? THE STATE

Nobody ever thought the old days – the bad, old days – would return. Much less that they would return so quickly.

It’s stunning to think South Carolina has slid so far so fast. Saturday will be 25 games since the Gamecocks finished the 2013 season No. 4 in the country. Reasons have been listed and all are accurate – taken together, they simply say, “USC was good and isn’t now.”

The loss to The Citadel last week removed what little chance Shawn Elliott had of remaining head coach, and also set up Gamecock Nation for what appears to be a gruesome death rattle – No. 1 Clemson comes to town Saturday. The thinking is that the Tigers will be able to name the final score and presumably make 63-17 seem like they kneeled most of the clock away.

If you’re a USC die-hard, what do you have left? The Gamecocks were always going to be taking hope into Clemson as the main factor, and after losing to a Division I-AA team, how can even hope be counted on?

Perhaps hope can be strengthened by examining other times when hope was lost.

The Navy loss in 1984 cost the Gamecocks a shot at the national championship, but they rebounded to post strong seasons in 1987 and 1988. While they weren’t bowl or conference champions, they had an identity – Man in Black Joe Morrison made USC the Men in Black Hats. They’d win and rub your nose in it.

Sparky Woods was voted to leave by his own players after a sour start in 1992. It was the latest dart in a stretch that saw Morrison die and a cloud of steroid suspicion rise over the program. Yet, Woods stood up to his team, told them to come to practice – and the Gamecocks played some of the best football they ever had.

The 0-21 stretch from 1998-99 had a glimmer of hope when Lou Holtz arrived in the middle of it, but that began to fade when his first season had no wins. Then he won 17 games and two bowls from 2000-01.

63-17 was an epic disaster and that turned into a winning (but bowl-less) season in 2004, ended by the rivalry brawl. Fans were grumbling that Mike McGee should have let Holtz retire when he wanted to after the 2001 season – but if that had happened, Steve Spurrier never would have been here.

Life was real good from 2005-13, OK in 2014 and lousy in 2015. Spurrier turned his back on his team and handed Elliott a team that nobody could save, and it devolved into close defeats, followed by a listless loss to Florida to that abomination last week. It’s so dark in Columbia right now, a bat just crashed into the stadium.

USC’s been here before. It’s battled back before. With so many other resurrections, isn’t it wise to think it will happen again? That hope can and will be restored?

The Gamecocks have to think that. There’s no other option.

And there’s nobody saying that it can’t start on Saturday.

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