There’s a psychology experiment that shows once a person possesses something, they find it more valuable. That is to say, you might pay only so much for an object, but once someone gives it to you, it will likely take more money to buy it off you.
Coming into Saturday, South Carolina’s football team beating a ranked Florida squad would have been like found money. Even if the Gators were scuffling, they’d had an arguably stronger season to date, were at home and had seemed to be bouncing back toward their usual spot as a top team in the SEC East.
But it doesn’t feel that way with a 17-point lead in the fourth quarter. It feels like that money was seen, picked up and just about in South Carolina’s pocket before a sudden gust of wind ripped it away.
Letting the chance slip through their fingers changes, in a large way, what this season can potentially be.
If South Carolina wins the two games it’s supposed to, Akron and FCS Chattanooga, but can’t upset No. 2 Clemson, you’re looking at a 7-5 season. That’s a far cry from where many predicted the team would be in the preseason, but by the midpoint of the season, that already seemed assured.
So what’s the difference between a 7-5 and 8-4 editions of these Gamecocks?
If USC got that Florida win, it would’ve been able to add the second ranked win of Will Muschamp’s tenure. Big wins are collateral for a coach. They buy goodwill. They make a given record seem a little more special.
Barring a Clemson upset, the best team South Carolina will have beaten will be a Missouri squad that will need to run the table for a 7-5 regular season.
The Gamecocks’ hype and promise this season came with the caveat: Four teams on the schedule were breaking in new coaches, and a fifth was replacing a highly successful offensive coordinator with Derek Dooley (also the idea Kentucky wouldn’t suddenly ascend).
USC went 3-2 in those games, beating Ole Miss by four, Tennessee by three, Missouri by two (in a shootout) and dropping the Texas A&M and Florida games by a combined seven points.
USC entered the game Saturday with the possibility of back-to-back eight-win or better regular seasons, and back-to-back winning seasons in SEC play. The latter only happened in two instances (one a four-year stretch). The former only twice times outside the 42 wins in four years from 2010-13.
A win would’ve meant third place in the division after second a year ago. USC will settle for fourth.
It happened because the offense many questioned ran out of gas after a strong day overall, and the defense Will Muschamp has built and been slowly recruiting to came apart at the seams.
Even with Saturday’s loss, South Carolina will be a team that slipped in the face of large expectations, but managed to get back on its feet enough to be competent.
But there’s definitely the sense they let slip a chance for the season to be a little bit more.