As you by now know, the Gamecocks finished ranked fourth in both the AP and coaches poll. This finish, the best in program history, represents a very positive step forward for the Gamecocks.
Although it was hard to be disappointed with another ten-win season and win over Clemson heading into bowl season, I at the same time wondered if the energy around the program was growing stagnant. After all, this was our third-straight ten-win regular season. Beating Clemson never gets old and we should never lose sight of how important winning in the rivalry is, but the novelty has worn off, even if the win set a new mark in consecutive victories in the series for Carolina. We yet again narrowly failed to make it to Atlanta and had our own team to blame for it after losing to an inferior Tennessee squad. We would again be heading to Florida for a good but non-BCS bowl. A great season, no doubt, but the same sort of great season we've accomplished the past three years.
The final ranking in the four spot changes that. This gives the program a key first on the national level--a top five finish--that it lacked before the polls were released this morning. Why is that important? In addition to keeping us, the fans, excited, it gives Spurrier and his staff more ammo on the recruiting trail. The staff has a great story to sell right now. The Gamecocks have steadily climbed the ladder into the ranks of consistent upper-tier programs over the past four years, but they've yet to win a conference or national title. The staff can tell the next group of recruits that they'll be the ones to make that happen, and they'll have even more warrant to argue that it can happen, because of how close we've come. We finished fourth in the country this year. We were within striking distance of the best of the best. Hopefully, this story will make a difference with the considerable number of high-profile recruits we're very much competing for.
What made us attractive to the voters, other than the fact that several teams above us lost their bowls while we won ours by double digits against a solid Wisconsin squad? Resume must have been what most stood out to voters considering South Carolina. The perception coming into the season about South Carolina was that we had an easy schedule. That didn't turn out to be the case, though, because Missouri and Central Florida turned out to be so much better than expected. We beat both of those teams on the road, and we added a home victory over Clemson to give us three victories over top-ten competition. The win over Vandy gives us another over a ranked opponent, and even the wins over UNC and Mississippi St. don't look too bad in hindsight. The loss to Tennessee is perplexing, but the loss to Georgia is more understandable considering that we played them on the road when they were full-strength. This resume gives us one that stacks up extremely well against any two-loss team in the country.
Would have been hard to believe we'd finish like this during the third quarter against Mizzou, wouldn't it? This team deserves a ton of credit for fighting back from that low point and accomplishing yet another first for Carolina football.