To conclude my roundup of the 2010 football season, I'm going to echo what Skulls and Spurs has already written: this season was good, but it wasn't good enough. It was a season of several notable highs and, considering our historical track record, I don't think you can argue that it wasn't a banner year for Carolina football. However, considering what we could have done this year, it can't be considered a great season.
The list of firsts that this team accomplished is considerable. First time to beat a top-ranked team. First time to beat Clemson twice in a row since the Nixon administration. First victory in the Swamp. First trip to Atlanta. First nine-win season since 2001 and third overall. First time so many Carolina players have gotten significant national press. We could be on the verge of another first, first time to sign the nation's top-rated recruit. (Pretty please.) These were all significant steps forward for a program that seemed perpetually stuck in second gear under Steve Spurrier, not to mention every coach that came before him. Spurrier has now proved that he can field a winner at Carolina, and the job he did, including the work he put in leading up to it over the past few years, has to a large degree vindicated his tenure in Columbia. Make no mistake, it ain't easy to win like this at USC. Many seemingly talented coaches have failed miserably in the past. Combine the program's historical ineptitude and consequent recruiting disadvantages with the level of competition in the SEC, and you've got a tough job. Even the most pessimistic viewer has to look at how this season stacks up against history and view what we did as progress.
Oh, what could have been, though. When I think back on this season, I'll of course immediately remember the wins over Alabama and Florida, both of which were monumental moments for the program. The next thing I'll probably remember, though, is the inexplicable loss to what turned out to be a below average Kentucky team. (And make no mistake; this year's Kentucky was not as good as some of the Rich Brooks teams.) I'll never understand how we lost that game. Well, I take that back; I get why we lost. Our star RB got hurt, our QB wet the bed, and our coaching staff went stupid and decided that we needed to throw the ball downfield while holding a sizeable lead against one of the worst run-defending teams in the nation. What I don't understand is why this happened; for a team and coaching staff that seemed to be making all the right choices for most of the year, it was inexplicable. And inexcusable. That loss should have never happened, and it kept us from winning ten games. The same goes for the bowl, another game where coaching decisions led to us losing to an opponent with inferior personnel.
I also continue to be surprised that Spurrier can't field a more competent QB. Don't get me wrong; I recognize that Stephen Garcia has had his moments. I also get that his shortcomings are largely of his own doing. However, if Garcia isn't the answer, then where are the other options? I'm probably beating a dead horse here, but you would think that a purported QB guru like Spurrier would have managed to recruit more SEC-caliber QBs during his time here. Despite numerous recruiting coups at other positions, though, Garcia and Chris Smelley are the only highly regarded prep QBs Spurrier has signed here, and there really hasn't been much talk of us landing many others. The thought that we almost certainly would have been a national title contender this year with a better QB under center has put a damper on my enthusiasm over the course of the season.
This is all to say that there is unfinished business at Carolina. And there are other unresolved issues, as well, such as the secondary and special teams problems. The staff and team proved that we can win more than seven games and that we can make it to Atlanta, but for these reasons they didn't win the big prizes and they didn't prove that we're capable of truly living up to our potential. The good news is that many key pieces are in place that will help us make another run in 2011. After what happened in 2010, though, the stakes are higher than they've ever been.