Josh Kendall

Talking season over: It’s time for Gamecocks to play

Grab a shovel.

The 2015 football season has officially arrived now that game week is here, and that means South Carolina fans can finally start throwing dirt on the 2014 season and bury one of the most confounding four months in the program’s history.

But before we etch out the granite on last season, a few words because we won’t see one like it again. (Hallelujah, right?) The fact that South Carolina lost three games in which it led by at least 13 points in the final 8:06 of regulation is mathematically improbable enough, (That’s a combined 41 points of blown lead in 21 minutes of action) but 2014 featured so much more than that.

Remember Kenny Hill’s Heisman Trophy run? It lasted for three hours on the evening of Aug. 28, 2014 in Williams-Brice Stadium. The Texas A&M quarterback was 44-for-60 (44-for-60!) in a 52-28 Aggies win that snapped an 18-game home winning streak for South Carolina. He almost trademarked Kenny Trill just based on that one night’s action, and then he went on to lose his starting job and transfer to TCU.

Remember the Gamecocks stuffing Todd Gurley at the goal line to salvage a 38-35 win over Georgia the next week? Yeah, nobody does because Mike Bobo called a play-action pass that started a Keystone Kops series that saw the Bulldogs blow a late-game opportunity.

That was just the first two weeks of the season. Vanderbilt ran two kickoffs back for touchdowns; Auburn and South Carolina combined for 1,086 yards on a beautiful night on The Plains; the Gamecocks blocked two kicks in the final 3:40 to come back and beat Florida 23-20 in overtime, because, “Why not at that point, right?” (That was also because Will Muschamp’s head coaching career clearly was cursed.)

What would you even write on the tombstone of a season like that? Good riddance?

South Carolina fans probably don’t care how it’s memorialized as long as they get to bury it once and for all, which they do because the new year is just beyond the horizon.

The Gamecocks open the season Thursday night against North Carolina in Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium.

“We feel like we can play better. We feel like we can coach better (than last year),” coach Steve Spurrier said. “And time will tell if we’re right or wrong.”

It can be tough for college football coaches to tell what kind of team they have when they are replacing as many pieces as Spurrier and the Gamecocks are replacing this season. Even last season, when the overhaul was not so dramatic, the gap between what South Carolina expected against Texas A&M and what it got was big enough to drive 680 yards of offense through.

“Most of the time when you have returning players, it’s not that big a deal. We know how this guy played last year or even the year before that, but we just have so many unknown players,” Spurrier said. “Some players are very good when the lights come on and there are people in the stands. Sometimes other players don’t perform all that well. So we just have to wait and see.”

Twenty-seven of the 76 players on the Gamecocks’ two-deep depth chart released Sunday have never played FBS football. Their quarterback is a first-year starter with six career attempts. Two-thirds of their starting wide receiver corps hasn’t caught a collegiate pass. And the offense is the side of the ball that’s considered the most stable at the moment.

“We have to go up there and kick it off or receive it and start playing football and find out what we’re all about,” Spurrier said. “It’s all about when the real game kicks off. All of us coaches, we’re all undefeated right now, everyone is positive, everyone is anxious to go and 50 percent of the teams that play this week are going to lose.”