The year 2015 wasn't great for South Carolina Gamecocks fans. Sure, it wasn't horrific, and worse years have been had, but there have been better years as well. The good news: things look to be turning northward and we should be in for a better 2016 across the board. However, as we look back and celebrate the successes, we (unfortunately) have to recap the not-so-good moments as well. Here now are the top (bottom?) five moments in Gamecocks athletics from the past 52 weeks.
5. Losing Kyle Davis...and others
Kyle Davis was considered to be one of the top wide receivers in the country, if not the best. Which had South Carolina fans salivating as he had committed to the program last July. Well...that was before he decommitted in May, because recruits don't want to hear that their future head coach is thinking about retiring...only to choose Auburn on November 25. Ironically, Will Muschamp left Auburn to become South Carolina's head coach, and I doubt Davis will flip back to the Gamecocks, but Davis was one of several top recruits to head elsewhere. Marlon Character felt the love from Auburn as well and will be taking his talents there; several others, including top LB P.J. Blue (now committed to Louisville) reopened their recruitment, with Blue's decision coming after Steve Spurrier's resignation.
Surprisingly, the program didn't lose an enormous number of recruits (and were actually able to hang on to several big names, including Brandon McIlwain and Bryan Edwards, while even adding top-20 DT Darius Whitfield a day after Spurrier stepped aside), but the names that were lost would have been of great value.
4. Starting QB Connor Mitch hurts himself, throwing the QB situation into disarray
After Dylan Thompson graduated, it was a question of who would take the reins under center for the Gamecocks in the 2015 season. There were several options: Connor Mitch, the redshirt sophomore and four-star high school commit; Lorenzo Nunez, the true freshman, himself a four-star recruit; and Perry Orth, the former walk-on that stocked shelves at Publix during the summer. The winner: Connor Mitch. And after playing a part in the team's season-opening win against South Carolina in Charlotte, Mitch headed into the Kentucky game ready to go. That is, until he separated his shoulder against the Wildcats. Oh, by the way, apparently he had suffered a hip bruise as well against the Tar Heels that became infected and NOPE DON'T CLICK HERE TO SEE THE PICTURE. Enter Perry Orth, then Lorenzo Nunez after the Georgia game, igniting the Orth vs. Nunez "who's better" battle. It might not be out of the question to think that Mitch would have had the job wire-to-wire if he hadn't gotten injured. What will 2016 hold with Brandon McIlwain coming into the fold? We'll see.
3. Swing and a miss: Baseball misses Regionals for first time since 1999
Unlike a lot of schools, South Carolina can take pride in the fact that they have a historically very good baseball program. Good, as in fifteen straight NCAA Regional appearances from 2000-2014, three College World Series appearances in a row from 2010-2012 (back-to-back titles in 2010 and 2011 and a runner-up finish in 2012), six 50-plus win seasons - the list goes on.
Alas, things didn't go well during Chad Holbrook's third year of his tenure as the man in charge. Sure, they advanced to their fourth straight Regional in 2013 before falling in Super Regionals, but in 2014, they failed to make it out despite winning their first game. Then 2015 happened. The Yardcocks went 32-25 (13-17 in SEC play), their first sub-35 win season and sub-.500 conference mark since Ray Tanner went 33-24 (13-17 in league games) in his first year on the job in 1997. Sure, there were the big wins (i.e. a 10-7 win against #1 LSU on May 14), but there were frustratingly bad losses as well (the 7-0 loss to Clemson, the first time Carolina had been shut out at home since 1998 - which happened again against Vanderbilt in a 12-0 drubbing). By the time the SEC Tournament rolled around, basically no one was surprised that the Gamecocks failed to do much of anything in Hoover, or that they missed Regionals for the first time since the 1999 season. Good news: there are some good pieces coming in that should get the guys back to their rightful place at/near the top of the college baseball world.
2. Dog bitten: Football loses to FCS's The Citadel at home
Let's be clear: The Citadel under Mike Houston is a very good FCS program. You have to give props to a team that knocked national power Coastal Carolina (who could probably hang with a number of FBS programs) out of the first round of the Division 1 playoffs before losing a close one to Charleston Southern. And the 2015 edition of Gamecocks football wasn't very good - the evidence was there pretty early on but probably fully sunk in sometime during or shortly after the 52-20 thrashing Georgia gave them at Sanford Stadium. But they had to at least get up for the other Bulldogs on their schedule, the ones from Charleston, who came in with a spot in the playoffs already clinched and absolutely nothing to lose.
Final score: The Citadel 23, South Carolina 22, and a potential Pharoh Cooper game-winning touchdown called back because all eleven players weren't set at the line of scrimmage because of course they weren't. Unfortunately, we could have probably picked several football moments at #2, but this might have been the lowest point of the season.
1. Hanging it up: Steve Spurrier resigns as South Carolina head coach
It was about a minute until 9:00 p.m. on Monday, October 12, 2015. The Gamecocks were two days removed from a home game that wasn't at Tiger Stadium against LSU, moved because of the flooding situation in Columbia. We knew that Maryland's Randy Edsall, Southern Cal's Steve Sarkisian and North Texas's Dan McCarney were all fired. But we weren't expecting this news to break.
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier is retiring per source.
— Thayer Evans (@ThayerEvansSI) October 13, 2015
Granted, we had a feeling that the end was coming sooner or later, and we later learned that he actually wasn't retiring, but resigning, but why then? Why didn't he just announce it, ride out the season and be done? This began a debate of whether Spurrier "quit" on the Gamecocks or if it was the right call to do so immediately, in an attempt to stop the bleeding and help the program get a head start on finding his successor. And his successor, Will Muschamp, has already began building the program in his own image, hitting the trails and bringing in the players that he feels will get South Carolina football back into contention. But I can't help but feel that Muschamp won't hold a candle to SOS when it comes to off-the-wall quips, constant jabs at opponents, and overall gamesmanship. And that's not a knock on Muschamp. I think he knows that as well. And we all know that whether or not he returns to the game (in some form or fashion), there may never be another person in football quite like Steve Spurrier.
Happy New Year. And let's hope that 2016 is full of good memories, on and off the playing surface.