2014 was supposed to be a season of optimism. Two thirds of the way into it, however, we find ourselves at 4 and 4.
There's something contemptible about a .500 record at this point in October.
Sure, sure. You're happy we're not 2-6. How we beat UGA and ECU seems mysterious and farfetched now.
But you can't get the idea out of your head that we should be 6-2. How we lost to UK and Mizzou is just as mind-numbing and mysterious.
Whether you're angry or philosophical about the way the Auburn game ended, you're now forced to wonder if we're even going to make a bowl. We have four games left, and the HBC says three of them are among the four biggest ones of the season - UT, UF and CU. Welcome to the "Son of Orange Crush."
Will we be 8-4? 7-5? ... 6-6? Or, Heaven forfend 5-7? Can we at least extend our streak over the Dabo Cats to six in a row? What does our history tell us? When was the last time we were 4-4 at this time of year?
Our schedule went from 10 games to 11 in the 1970 season, so let's use that as the cut off.
This was Jeff Grantz's first year as starting QB. We whipped Georgia Tech 41-28 out of the gate, but then lost to Houston and Miami of Ohio. Running Paul Dietzel's veer, Grantz racked up 260 yards, passed for 25 - and even returned a kick off 85 yards for a TD - against Virginia Tech to earn AP "Back of the Week" honors. Alas, we lost the next game to LSU when we allowed the Bayou Bengals score in the final minute to steal a 33-29 victory against us at Williams-Brice. Worse, Grantz was hurt in the LSU game; his back-up, Ronnie Bass (of Remember the Titans fame), made his debut against Lou Holtz's NC State team, who beat us 56-35.
How'd it End? 7-4. Bass shook off the NC State shellacking and led us to wins over App State and FSU (we beat the Noles 56-12)! Grantz was back in time for the Clemson tilt and paced us to a 32-20 win over the Tigers. We finished 7-4 but missed out on a bowl bid.
We had some amazing talent on this team in Coach Jim Carlen's third season at the helm. Ronnie Bass. Johnny Wright. George Rogers. And a DB named Mark Dantonio. (Ed - I wonder what ever happened to him?) Anyhow, we came out of the gate strong in our first three games against App St., Georgia Tech and Duke, but then got edged by Georgia 13-15. We would beat Pat Dye's ECU squad in our first ever meeting with the Pirates to go to 4-1. Alas, a three game road skid ensued with losses at Ole Miss, at UNC and at NC State which spoiled the good start.
How'd it End? 5-6. We ended the losing streak in the fourth road game (!) at Wake Forest, which led to our final home contest of the season against Clemson. Unfortunately, this was the game Tiger QB Steve Fuller threw "The Catch" to Jerry Butler with :49 left in the game to steal a 31-27 victory over the Cocks. The season wasn't over, though. We had scheduled a game at Hawaii as a reward for the team; a;as, the guys were either hungover from the Clemson defeat or all the pineapple drinks in Honolulu, and the "Bows" (yes - they called themselves that) beat the tar out of us 24-7 in only their third year in D1 ball. It would be the last time for 23 years that we would not finish the regular season with Clemson.
In Joe Morrison's first year as Head Coach we were trounced 24-8 by UNC in the opener in Columbia, but with our great RB Thomas Dendy leading the way, we beat Miami (Ohio) and Duke back-to-back - having to overcome a 14-0 halftime deficit to the Blue Devils. Alas, Georgia walloped us 31-13 to bring our record to 2-2. Then came the mighty Southern Cal Trojans under first year Coach Ted Tollner. In retrospect, "USCw" was entering a program downturn, but at the time they were still considered a huge national power; we shocked the CFB when the Cocks' Fire Ant defense forced several Trojan turnovers and we scored 24 points in a 9 minute second-half run to blow them out 38-14. The victory over SoCal earned us a lot of national attention and respect; unfortunately, Gary Faust's Notre Dame Fighting Irish came to town the next week and beat us 30-6. We then traveled down to LSU and lost 20-6. Back home, a big win over NC State put us back at 4-4.
How'd it End? 5-6. We lost to FSU at Tallhasee, but easily cruised by Navy 31-7 (it's a pity the Middies didn't put a bigger scare into us in light of what would happen next year). At 5-5, it all came down to the Clemson game. Already on a three game streak against us, the Tigers won their fourth in a row, 22-13.
Notwithstanding the loss to Navy and the disappointing Gator Bowl, 1984 was a great season and we hoped to build on it in 1985. Mike Hold, who had platooned with Jeff Allen in '84, was now the starting QB; we had a deep stable of RBs plus a standout freshman WR named Sterling Sharpe. But we had also lost three All Americans in Del Wilkes (OG), James Seawright (LB) and Bryant Gillard (DB). We took care of The Citadel in the opener, but struggled with App to win by just 20-13. We then dropped three in a row to Michigan, Georgia and Pitt, 34-3, 35-21 and 42-7, respectively. [Our lone TD versus the Panthers was an Immaculate-Reception like play where Mike Hold's 30 yard pass play ricocheted off Anthony Smith's shoulder pad 15 yards in the air before dropping into Raynard Brown's hands for the TD]. We got back to winning ways by taking care of Duke and ECU (on the road) to go to 4-3, but then dropped to NC State at home 21-7.
How'd it End? 5-6. Traveling down to Tallahassee we took a severe 56-14 beating by the Noles, then had to edge Navy 34-31 at home (showing how 1984 wasn't a fluke). So, just like in '84, we were 5-5 heading into Clemson. We led 14-3 midway in the 2nd quarter, but Clemson scored 10 right before half - then outscored us 10-3 in the second half to win 24-17.
In Sparky Woods' second season, we were without the services of QB Todd Ellis and RB Harold Green who had extinguished eligibility. In the opener, we took care of HBC-less Duke, then ripped off 27-5 and 35-24 wins over UNC and Virginia Tech behind RB Mike Dingle (who scored a then-USC record 4 TDs versus the Hokies), as well as fan-favorites RB Rob DeBoer , QB Bobby Fuller, WR Robert Brooks and K Collin Mackie. The Cocks then lost 27-6 to eventual co-National Champion Georgia Tech in Atlanta. We bounced back with a nice win over ECU to go to 4-1 and things looked pretty good. Alas, the next week was the still-inexplicable 38-35 loss to The Citadel (which they still crow about to this day), followed by a 38-29 road loss to NC State and a 41-10 home drubbing by FSU,
How'd it End? 6-5. We beat up on Southern Illinois 36-14 but lost at Clemson 24-15 in Ken Hatfield's first year as Danny Ford's replacement. Fortunately, we had a nationally-televised date on ESPN against WVU - the first time since '73 we had finished the regular season with an opponent other than Clemson; Mackie booted a school-record 5 FGs and we beat the Mountaineers 29-10 for a winning season. Alas, no bowl bid followed.
This year gets an honorable mention because we were 3-3-2 after eight games - which is practically kissing cousins to 4-4 We had most of the starters back from 1990, but we let Duke eke out a tie in the final minute of the opener. The Cocks then lost the WVU rematch 21-16, but won 28-21 over Virgina Tech before suffering our first ever loss to ECU 31-20 at Greenville, N.C.. The Cocks blew out East Tennesse 55-3, but suffered a tie against Louisiana Tech 12-12. We avenged our loss to Georgia Tech 23-14, but then turned around and lost to NC State 38-21. QB Bobby Fuller and WR Robert Brooks were stars, along with true freshman RB Brandon Bennett. Talk about an up-and-down season. Time and time again, though, we fell apart defensively in the 4th quarter.
How'd it End? 3-6-2. We skidded against FSU, UNC and Clemson to finish on a winless streak. That was CU's 4th in a row and Ouch.
This was Sparky Woods' last season at USC and, as in '90 and '91, and the Cocks found themselves 4-4 in mid-October. We all remember the "Bennett over the top" season-opening victory Between the Hedges, but Steve Taneyhill and Bennett could not beat Arkansas, Kentucky, # 2 Alabama (though we did play the Tide close in Tuscaloosa, losing only 6-17) or Mississippi State. We did take care of Louisiana Tech, ECU and Vandy.
How'd it End? 4-7. In our second full year in the SEC, Carolina fans began to realize that the Orange Crush was going to be perennial, recurring horror. We got destroyed by # 3 Tennessee, # 8 Florida and lost a heartbreaker 16-13 to # 24 Clemson.
Its amazing that it's been 21 seasons since the last time the Cocks stood at 4-4. Some years, of course, we'd have given anything to be at .500. Other years, we have taken care of business and avoided this mediocrity. This current season is the first time since the NCAA permitted twelve regular season games in 2006 that we have been at 4-4.
Can we deduce how we will finish based on past 4-4 marks in mid-October? Of course not, but historically we've only gutted out winning seasons twice after starting 4-4 ... 1973 and 1990. Anyway you slice it, we will have our work cut out for us in the next month.
-1965 was the last year we started 4-4 in the ten-game season era.
- Including ties, we were 3-4-1 in 1970, 4-3-1 in 1978 and 4-3-1 in 1995. The '95 tie was against LSU, which felt more like a win that you might imagine.