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South Carolina Gamecocks Football: USC versus AP Top 10 Opponents

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Any win over Georgia is a good win. And the fact this is the first time USC has taken 4 out of 5 against UGA - and also the first time we've beaten the Silver Britches in three consecutive games at Williams-Brice Stadium - makes it that much sweeter. But what also struck me was that it was yet another victory by Steve Spurrier's Gamecocks over an AP Top 10 team. That made me wonder about our program's history versus Top 10 teams - and how the HBC stacks up in that department against his predecessors.

Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

According to Wikipedia, the AP Football Poll - the oldest poll in collegiate sports - was established all the way back in 1934, when the Gamecocks were coached by Billy Laval (who we swiped from Furman after 5 straight losses to the Purple Hurricane).

Laval never coached against a ranked team in '34, nor did his successor Don McCallister, who led the Gamecocks from 1935 to 1937.  In fact, it was not until 1938 - during the first tenure of the legendary Rex Enright - that Carolina squared off against a ranked team at all: Villanova (#15).  The Wildcats were riding a thirteen game win streak, but we shocked them with a 6-6 tie at the Orangeburg County Fair.

We finally met our first AP Top 10 opponent in 1942 when the Gamecocks - depleted by losses to the armed forces - took the train to Tuscaloosa, where we got walloped by Frank Thomas' Crimson Tide at their homecoming 29-0.  Bama would go on to win the Orange Bowl.  We would finish 1-7-1 (our worst season since 1919) and Enright would leave Carolina to join the U.S. Navy.

The 1942 Bama game was the first of 84 contests by USC against AP Top 10 teams through last Saturday's bout with Georgia

Our inauspicious start against the Tide foreshadowed our struggles against elite squads.  It would be 10 more years and eight attempts before we finally knocked off a Top 10 team  - # 8 West Virginia - when Enright (in his second stint at Carolina) would lead us to a 20-14 victory at Morgantown in 1953.

Alas, the win over the Mountaineers didn't change our fortunes.  Another 28 years - and 19 intervening Top 10 foes - would elapse before we took down our second Top 10 opponent at Chapel Hill, where we shocked the # 3 Tarheels in 1981 during Jim Carlen's seventh and final year as our head coach.

The first USC head coach to notch two Top 10 victories was Joe "The Man in Black" Morrison.  We beat # 8 Clemson in 1987 at Williams-Brice Stadium (20-7) - our first Top 10 victory at home - and then whipped # 6 UGA (23-10), also in Columbia, on September 24, 1988.  Unfortunately, we all know what happened in October, 1988 - which was then followed by the tragic death of Coach Morrison four months later.  Before we could rebuild our program, we would be thrown out of the frying pan and into the proverbial fire when we joined the SEC in 1990 [starting league play in 1992].

From 1942 to 1992, we averaged only 1-2 Top 10 contests a year - typically versus Georgia, LSU, Alabama or FSU - but also against other squads as diverse as Nebraska, Miami, Pitt, Southern Cal, Army, OK State and Maryland.  During those 50 years, only in 1980 and 1981 did we face three Top 10 clubs in a single season; just once - 1987 - would we face four.  There were plenty of times, however, where we would have a season or two without facing a top squad, either.   The longest drought has been three years: once from 1961-1963 under Coach Marvin Bass and also 1946-1948 following Rex Enright's return from World War II.

When we joined the SEC, however, we would begin to see more Top 10 foes than ever.  Division foes Florida, Tennessee and Georgia were enjoying incredible success - not to mention Alabama and LSU.  As a result, Carolina would always face at least one, and usually two or three, Top 10 opponents without fail every season from 1992 through 2014.  This is in addition, of course, to a bevy of Top 25 matches, as well.

Right before, and during our early days in the SEC, Sparky Woods and Brad Scott were powerless to take down a Top 10 team, going 0-6 and 0-7, respectively. Even Lou Holtz only turned the trick just once out of 10 tries - when we beat Jim Donnan's # 10 UGA Bulldogs in 2000 (with Quincy Carter as QB) - only 2 games removed from the program-worst 1-21 losing streak during 1998-1999.

Our love for the Cocks has never been about the record book.  Even several years into the Steve Spurrier era, our all-time record (versus all opponents) never hovered far from the .500 mark; our bowl record has been thin to the point of anemic until recent years. Thus, we should neither be ashamed nor surprised that our all-time record versus AP Top 10 opponents before Steve Spurrier came aboard in 2005 was a meager 5-59!

Spurrier changed everything.  His first top 10 victory at USC was against # 8 Kentucky (38-23) in 2007 at Williams-Brice (the Cat fans wore Blue-and-White shirts declaring 'Believe the Hype'). He did it again in 2009 against Houston Nutt's # 4 Ole Miss Rebels (16-10) - also at home - our highest-ranked victory since 1981.

The high watermark would come in 2010 with the 35-21 win over # 1 Alabama also at W-B with ESPN GameDay in attendance.  Rankings-wise, it is our greatest win in program history.

From 2012 through today, Spurrier's Cocks also beat # 5 UGA ('12), # 5 Missouri ('13), #6 Clemson ('13) and # 6 UGA ('14).

The HBC's record at Carolina against AP Top 10 opponents is 7-13 now four weeks into the 2014 season.

Will he notch an eighth before the season ends?  Only time will tell, but the fact he has eclipsed all his predecessors with 7 wins to their combined 5 ... and faced more Top 10 teams (20) than any of the coaches who came before him ... is just more evidence that Spurrier is the greatest head coach ever to prowl our sidelines and lead the Garnet & Black!

COACHING RECORDS v AP TOP 10

Coach Wins v. Top 10 Losses v. Top 10 Total v. Top 10 # of Seasons
Steve Spurrier 7 13 20 10
Lou Holtz 1 10 11 6
Brad Scott 0 7 7 5
Sparky Woods 0 6 6 5
Joe Morrison 2 7 9 6
Richard Bell 0 2 2 1
Jim Carlen 1 8 9 7
Paul Dietzel 0 9 9 11
Marvin Bass 0 0 0 3
Warren Giese 0 2 2 5
Rex Enright 1 6 7 15
WW2 Coaches 0 2 2 3
Totals 12 72 84 -

NOTES

  • Our most common Top 10 opponent [and most wins against] is Georgia  -  15 games (4-11).
  • Florida is our second most common Top 10 opponent in program history -  11 games (0-11).
  • Tennessee is third (10 games/0-10), followed by Alabama (7 games/1-6), LSU (6 games/0-6), Clemson (5 games/2-3), Duke (4 games/0-4) and Auburn, FSU, Nebraska (each 3 games/0-3).
  • At 2 for 5, .666%, we have our best record v. a Top 10 against the Clemson Tigers; isn't it strange that Clemson has been ranked in the Top 10 only five times when we have met them?
  • The farthest from home we have played a Top 10 team on the road was @Army in 1958 (L 45-8).
  • The farthest from home we have beaten a Top 10 team on the road was @WVU in 1953 (W 20-14).
  • Records are taken from www.Fanbase.com.