South Carolina football won’t be headed to the SEC championship game on Dec. 1. The Gamecocks can’t even finish second in the East division, which they were predicted to do in the preseason.
But USC will still be fighting for some conference pride when it plays Florida this Saturday.
At 4-3 in league play, Carolina and coach Will Muschamp are looking to match last season’s 5-3 mark in the SEC, which would mark one of the few times since the program joined the conference in 1992 that teams have posted back-to-back winning records.
The exact number of times it’s been done depends on how you count — it occurred once in 2000-2001, and then again each year from 2010 through 2013, so two or three times.
Muschamp said if his team wins Saturday, he would consider it the fourth time the milestone has been hit, and in his mind, it’s an important one for that he’s been talking about with his players.
“It’s just progress. You’re making progress in the program, you’re seeing the progress, being able to have tangible results for your team and your fanbase, and that is something that’s important to our football team,” Muschamp said.
That progress seemed to more motivation for Muschamp than his own personal history with Florida, which has been well documented and which he continued to downplay Tuesday.
“For me, it’s another SEC East opponent. I know that y’all have a hard time believing that, but it really is. We spend as much time in the office as we do every other week that we have,” Muschamp said. “It’s another great opportunity for our team on the road. If you want to continue to move the program forward, you need to win tough road games, and this will be a tough road game.”
A win Saturday would also secure a third place finish in the SEC East for South Carolina, along with bowl eligibility and the 46th season in program history with at least six wins.
A bowl berth would also make Muschamp just the second coach in program history, alongside Steve Spurrier, to make three consecutive bowl trips.
At the end of the day, of course, the Gamecocks have plenty to play for just from their own intrinsic motivation, without the added desire for consecutive winning seasons in the conference, junior quarterback Jake Bentely said.
“It’s just a matter of pride. We’ve played this game since we were five years old, and no one likes to lose. It’s about taking a stand and doing whatever it takes to get wins,” Bentley said.