This excerpt from “100 Things South Carolina Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die” by Josh Kendall is printed with the permission of Triumph Books.
For more information, please visit www.triumphbooks.com/ 100ThingsSouthCarolina
The linchpin game came on September 9, 2000.
The 21-game losing streak — the 10 straight losses in 1998 that ended Brad Scott’s career combined with the 0-11 of Lou Holtz’s 1999 season — had been snapped the week before with a 31–0 win over New Mexico State, and the goal posts at Williams-Brice Stadium predictably came down.
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However, The Turnaround was truly sparked the next week when No. 9 Georgia came to town. The Bulldogs were expected to win the SEC East and contend for the national title but left Williams-Brice stadium with a 21-10 loss after the Gamecocks intercepted would-be star quarterback Quincy Carter five times and controlled the ball offensively.
“I’m sure when everybody around the country sees this score, they’re going to say ‘What? Look at that score.’ Fans are going to be coming out of the woodwork,” South Carolina defensive lineman Cleveland Pinkney told The State newspaper after the game. “I’m sure this puts a big shock into everybody.”
It put a shock into the Bulldogs, including Georgia defensive lineman Richard Seymour, a Palmetto State native who crossed the state line to play for the Bulldogs.
“It’s tough losing to an inferior team,” Seymour told The State. “This is devastating.”
For the Gamecocks, though, it was a historic performance that jumpstarted an 8–4 season and a trip to the Outback Bowl on January 1, 2001. The eight-game turnaround, from winless to eight wins in back-to-back years, is the second biggest turnaround in NCAA history.
Running back Ryan Brewer arrived just in time to suffer through the 0-11 season but then went to back-to-back Outback Bowls. He credits Holtz’s recruitment of talented players who cared about the game for the turnaround.
“We were bringing in guys who were top-notch,” Brewer said. “We were bringing in kids who loved the game and wanted to play hard.”
The Gamecocks would win seven of their first eight games in 2000, the only loss coming 27-17 at Alabama, and they were ranked as high as No. 17, snapping a streak of six straight seasons in which they didn’t appear in The Associated Press’ Top 25.
The six weeks in which South Carolina was ranked during the 2000 season was twice its total time spent in the Top 25 in the previous 11 seasons combined.
The 2000 regular season ended on a down slope as the vaunted “Orange Crush” section of the Gamecocks’ schedule — three straight games against Tennessee, Florida, and Clemson — resulted in three straight losses. But South Carolina salvaged the feel-good story with a 24–7 win against the Buckeyes in the bowl game.
Mike McGee, then the Gamecocks athletics director and the man who hired Holtz, said he could see progress even during the 0-11 season.
“You look back at those games and virtually every one of those games was competitive,” McGee said. “It wasn’t like we were getting run over. We were getting better and better.”
Brewer agreed, although they may have been the only ones who saw it. The Gamecocks scored more than 14 points once and lost seven of their eight SEC games by at least 15 points during the 0–11 season.
“We knew we were getting somewhere,” Brewer said. “We knew we were growing even though we got beat. We could feel that something special was about to happen, and we turned that corner the next season.”
After the 0–11 season, South Carolina’s overall winning percentage was .492 (466–482). Since, it is .611 (99–63).
“Since then it seems like we have been on the right track, maybe a few dips here and there, but it has grown to where it is now,” Brewer said.
And it all started by beating the Bulldogs.
“You talk about loyalty, support, enthusiasm — we get all of that from our fans. And we get the expectations, too,” Holtz told The State after the win. “We’ve won two games. My goodness, we just lost 21 in a row. We had high expectations when we came here. I don’t think we’re as good as some people think, and we’re not as bad as I think. This was one game. We’ve got to continue to improve. I’m making no promises we’ll even win another game from here on out.”
They did, though.