A few years back, beating Tennessee was always one of the season's top priorities for the South Carolina Gamecocks. The Volunteers were a division rival whom the Gamecocks failed to best during a roughly fifteen-year span between the early 90s and the 2000s. The streak-breaking win over the Volunteers in his first year as the Carolina head coach in 2005 was the first major victory of the Spurrier era, and at the time, it was an epochal moment for the program. During the late 90s, beating Tennessee, which at the time was regularly in the top five, was unthinkable. After Lou Holtz arrived, the series became more competitive, but Holtz never managed to actually beat the Vols. Spurrier got us over the hump in the series. The HBC got the monkey off our backs.
Since then, things have changed. Tennessee beat Spurrier a couple of times in 2006 and 2007, Phil Fulmer's last good years in Knoxville. Since then, Carolina is 3-1 against the Vols, with the only loss coming in Lane Kiffin's one season at UT. This year, UT comes into Columbia with a dismal 3-4 record, including an 0-4 mark in the SEC. The Vols' head coach, Derek Dooley, is on the hot seat and might need a win to keep his job. That win is unlikely, though, considering that UT comes into the game a two-TD underdog. All of this is part and parcel with the fact that UT has hit very hard times at the very same time that South Carolina has gotten much better. This is reflected in the fact that there's a distinct lack of fanfare regarding the game this year. Carolina and its fans are disappointed in the failure to come through with a win in the last two games, which took the season's goals off the table, and a win over a floundering Vols program isn't going to be enough to cure what ails many of us.
However, continuing to win in this series needs to be a huge priority for the Gamecocks. The major reason for this is recruiting. Tennessee has to rely on out-of-state recruiting to fill its roster to a championship-caliber level because the state of Tennessee doesn't produce the same depth of talent that other SEC states produce. For many years, the state of South Carolina was one of UT's prime targets. South Carolina (and Clemson) were no match for Fulmer's program when it came to convincing big-time players to come join the team. UT had the state-of-the-art facilities, the winning tradition, and the history of sending players to the big leagues that other programs could only dream of. More recently, though, USC (and, again, Clemson) have started winning more of these recruiting battles. USC brought in Spurrier and upgraded in facilities, while the Vols have suffered major coaching turnover and hit the skids financially. USC garnered commitments from numerous major players over the Vols, not only from the South Carolina prep ranks but also from the Georgia and Florida ranks. USC needs to keep winning in this series in order to make it likely that this trend will continue. We have Tennessee where we want them right now. Their team isn't as talented as ours is, their coaches not as sharp. If they fire Dooley, they'll likely upgrade, but they'll also have to go through a transition period. We have the chance right now to convince a generation of prep talent modern-day Tennessee isn't anywhere near as competitive with South Carolina as it used to be. Part of the deal here is that we can't trip up and let Tennessee net any program-changing wins against us. That starts this weekend.