Many of you have probably followed GwinnettGamecock's link to Spencer Hall's discussion of South Carolina football and superstition. The article speaks to the tension between the fact that Carolina looks to be the Eastern Division favorite going into 2011 and the wariness with which fans eye that fact. This is the part that really caught me while reading the article:
Facts and circumstance are on now firmly on their side, and that may be the most alien environment yet for Gamecocks fans. Superstition, the belief in their own inherent doom hasn't been useless at all. It's been a comfort, a way to believe in some order out of chaos. Superstition has been the armor they have worn against being stabbed by the coldest blade of all, hope. To hope means abandoning that phrase--but it's South Carolina--to explain away the obvious division favorite going into the 2011 season.
The message here, as I read it? That there is no "Chicken Curse"; that the idea is--in addition to being a favored joke among our rivals--merely our attempt to comfort ourselves due to our historical ineptitude on the gridiron. Carolina fans are inclined to believe that luck has played a part in our misfortunes. The truth is both less and more depressing--we've really struggled merely because our program is mediocre. It's easier to believe it all owes to luck than to admit that we have simply sucked for most of our football existence. If our program has suffered from a lack of luck, it's only been in the sense that we've oftentimes been just good enough to be competitive but never good enough to turn the corner. That's put us in a persistent, hellish limbo.
What happened last year doesn't have anything to do with a change in luck. Instead, what happened was that we put a better product on the field, a team that wasn't only decent enough to play tough in the SEC, as has been the case since the Holtz era, but a team that was both that but that also had a few playmakers who took us to the next level. Signing Marcus Lattimore, Alshon Jeffery, Stephon Gilmore, and other players of their caliber has made all the difference in the world for Carolina. The other thing that happened last year, which was likely just as key to us winning the East, is that Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee all struggled. In the past, we might have beaten one or two of those teams with the roster we had last year. Last year, though, each one was eminently beatable, and we took advantage by making a clean sweep. All Hall writes, "facts and circumstances" came together for us last season--we finally had a talented team, and it happened in a year when the league was ripe for the taking.
Like Hall, I don't think we have any reason to regarding the upcoming season with dread. Am I sure that we're going to win the East again? No, I'm not. But that's not because I think our program is cursed; it's solely because I don't think we're good enough or our opponents bad enough for it to be easy for us. I do, though, think we have the best shot of the lot, and I feel confident saying that.