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Reviewing the Papa John's Bowl: Poor Performance in Bowl, but Season Not a Total Loss

The feeling around Gamecock Nation right now is one of utter cynicism and pessimism after our team's failure to show up for the Papa John's Bowl against UConn. That's not a huge surprise; the Gamecocks turned in a pathetic effort on Saturday in most facets of the game, particularly on offense.

Is the season lost, though? Does this loss mean it was a failure? In some senses, it was. Here are some sobering facts:

  • The team yet again failed to win eight games and/or finish above .500 in the SEC, despite the fact that the bowl season is teaching us that the SEC is clearly down again this year. We finished with less than eight wins for the fourth time in Steve Spurrier's five years. Only once has Spurrier finished above .500 in the SEC, and only one other time has he finished at .500. Amazingly, that one 5-3 SEC team was the 2005 outfit of Spurrier's first year, a team that was decimated by injuries and disciplinary dismissals. With improved talent, Spurrier has failed to reattain the heights of that year's season.
  • The loss was the third blowout loss we suffered to an unranked team (the other two being Tennessee and Arkansas). And yes, it was enough of a beatdown to call it a blowout. Our one score came after the contest had been decided. That doesn't constitute a closely played contest in any sense of the term.
  • Despite showing sparks of life at some points throughout the season, our offense failed to perform consistently, particularly in regards to scoring points. Perhaps what's worst of all is that it failed to improve throughout the season, as one might expect a young but talented group to do. It played horribly against NC State, quite well against an anemic UGA defense, alternately well, OK, and poorly against other SEC teams, well against Florida, great against Clemson, and NC State-level bad against UConn. I would feel a lot better about claiming youth as an excuse if we had progressed throughout the year, but it seems the problem runs deeper than that. (And yes, I think we all know what that means.)

These are all pretty tough pills to swallow for Gamecocks fans, especially if you maintain that Spurrier can succeed here. However, I'm not willing to call this season a total failure or to give up all hope that 2010 will be better. Here's why:

  • Despite the failure of this team to reach attainable goals, it did exceed the expectations of many. Considering the number of freshmen we started, seven wins should probably be considered something slightly better than a failure.
  • We will be one of the most experienced teams in the SEC East next year, and our talent level in comparison to the powers has never been higher. Whatever he's done wrong, Spurrier has proven that he can recruit. (That's ironic, of course, considering that the speculation when he came was that he wasn't up to the task of convincing kids to come here and would instead win with his offensive coaching prowess. Hasn't worked out that way, obviously, at least not since 2006.)
  • We will have a preseason All-SEC quarterback next year, and one that has a lot of drive to lead us to glory.
  • I expect the offensive line, which clearly continues to be the major problem, to improve. Shawn Elliott looks like a great coach that can kick some life into this group. He's already making noise on the recruiting trail. Moreover, we'll be moving more of the John Hunt holdovers out the door and more of the young talent in. That should yield dividends. While we deserved better than that horrid Papa John's Bowl performance, we should have realized that it would take time for a new coach to cure what ailed the Hunt lines.
  • Our coaching staff, despite it failures, seems highly motivated to prove that it can win.

At the end of the day, I'd call this season very equivocal. It was marked by some notable successes, particularly the Ole Miss and Clemson wins, as well as some notable failures, particularly the UT, UArk, and UConn games. And, although I still maintain that a little more consistent improvement would have been nice, maybe that's what we should have expected from this young team.

Sound off: what does this loss mean? How would you judge this season?