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South Carolina Gamecocks Football: Looking at our SEC Opening Games

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A little history of how the Gamecocks have fared in their SEC openers since our inaugural season in the Southeastern Conference back in 1992. Are there any trends that might impact our game tonight against UK?

Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

Well, it's time to kick-off conference play.  After last year's 58-28 shellacking at the hands of the Texas A&M Aggies - the most brutal smack-down we have ever suffered in an SEC opener (or any opener for that matter I should read my link; Duke clobbered us 60-0 in '45) - you might have some serious stomach acid churning today as we face the Kentucky Wildcats.

Sure, you know it's a revenge game against UK.  And you hope the HBC and the players see it that way, too.   But what you really want to know is how we've fared in our SEC starts.

OK.  Maybe not.  But perhaps you're a little curious.  Well, never fear. Last year we went inside our opening day numbers.  We also looked South Carolina's Ten Best Openers from 1964-2013 Part 1 and Part 2.  Now let's dive inside our first games against conference foes each year since joining the best collegiate football league in all the land in '92.

v. All SEC in Opening Conference Play

Incredibly, in 23 SEC seasons, we have opened conference play on the road fifteen times (65%).  I'm not enough of a masochist to check the other squads to see if any other SEC team has approached that mark, but I would bet good money it's not even close with the ten original pre-1992 members and Arkansas over that same stretch.

I have no complaints from 1992 to 2003, because we were locked down with Georgia our first SEC game of the season and alternating home-and-home with the Dawgs (in our first four SEC seasons, in fact, the UGA game was the season-opener, too).

But starting in '04, we have opened conference play on the road nine of the the next ten seasons.  That is positively ridiculous. Our only home SEC opener in that stretch was hosting #22 UGA in 2010 - in Marcus Lattimore's first SEC game [we won 17-16].

In any event, our record in SEC openers is 13-10 (57%), which some might consider pretty 'meh' but is better than you might have thought - and certainly an improvement on our all-time SEC average of 44% (81-103):

Season Coach SEC Openers W-L Score Date
1992 Woods Georgia (# 14) L 9-24 9-5
1993 Woods @Georgia (# 14) W 23-21 9-4
1994 Scott Georgia (NR) L 21-24 9-3
1995 Scoot @Georgia (NR) L 23-42 9-2
1996 Scott Georgia (NR) W 23-14 9-14
1997 Scott @Georgia (# 25) L 15-31 9-13
1998 Scott Georgia (# 13) L 3-17 9-12
1999 Holtz @Georgia (#12) L 9-24 9-11
2000 Holtz Georgia (# 10) W 21-0 9-9
2001 Holtz @Georgia (# 25) W 37-36 9-8
2002 Holtz Georgia (# 9) L 7-13 9-14
2003 Holtz @Georgia (# 8) L 7-31 9-13
2004 Holtz @Vanderbilt (NR) W 31-6 9-4
2005 Spurrier @Georgia (# 9) L 15-7 9-10
2006 Spurrier @Miss State W 15-0 8-31
2007 Spurrier @Georgia (# 11) W 16-12 9-8
2008 Spurrier @Vanderbilt (NR) L 17-24 9-4
2009 Spurrier @Georgia (# 21) L 37-41 9-12
2010 Spurrier Georgia (#22) W 17-16 9-11
2011 Spurrier @Georgia (NR) W 45-42 9-10
2012 Spurrier @Vanderbilt (NR) W 17-13 8-30
2013 Spurrier @Georgia (# 11) L 30-25 9-7
2014 Spurrier Texas A&M (#21) L 58-22 8-28

Not surprisingly, Georgia has been our primary SEC foe at the start of league play; we faced the Red and Black 17 times in 23 years to start the SEC season (74%) with a W-L record of 7-17 (41%) [though to our credit, in four of those wins the Silver Britches had been ranked].

Against ranked SEC opponents to start conference competition we are 5-10; against unranked SEC foes in first SEC games we're a much better 5-2.  If anything, this last stat show just how strong UGA has been over the years. Having said that, if anything we've probably benefited psychologically from playing them early rather than later since joining the conference.

Spurrier has had mixed success in league openers at USC - going five and five so far.  Contrast that to his perfect 12-0 record vs. SEC openers during his tenure at Florida [and, yes, while he feasted on UK in SEC openers from 1992-1995 and again in 2001, the other conference opening games for Spurrier's Gators were against ranked Bama and Tennessee squads].  Only Sparky Woods, in his two SEC seasons, equals Spurrier's 50% v. SEC opening opponents.  Lou Holtz and Brad Scott were 2-4 (33%) and 1-5 (20%) respectively in their first matches of the season against an SEC foe.

SEC Openers At Williams-Brice Stadium

So how have we done in our first SEC Home Opener (i.e. the first SEC tilt of the season at Williams-Brice)?   Ironically, it's an identical 13-10 (57%) record as vs. all SEC openers (home and away). Maybe it would be a bit higher if we'd had a little more scheduling fairness. Note that '14-'15 will be the first time since joining the SEC that the Cocks start league play at home in back-to-back seasons. Coincidence?  I think not.

Not surprisingly, Georgia is not only the team we've kicked off against to open SEC play, but also #1 in our first SEC home game of the season too - ten times (43% incl. 2015).  Kentucky is second with four tilts to open SEC play at the Cock Pit when you include tonight

As expected, Spurrier has the best winning percentage in this category - 60%(6-4); Holtz was 50% (5-5).  Woods and Scott only registered just one SEC home-opener between them. Impressively, before the '14 TAMU debacle, the Visor had notched five straight SEC openers at W-B.

Season Coach 1st SEC Home Opp, W-L Score Date
1992 Woods Georgia (# 14) L 9-24 9-5
1993 Woods Kentucky L 17-31 9-23
1994 Scott Georgia (NR) L 21-24 9-3
1995 Scoot Kentucky (NR) L 30-35 9-23
1996 Scott Georgia (NR) W 23-14 9-14
1997 Scott Auburn (# 9) L 17-37 10-4
1998 Scott Georgia (# 13) L 3-17 9-12
1999 Holtz Ole Miss (NR) L 10-36 10-2
2000 Holtz Georgia (# 10) W 21-0 9-9
2001 Holtz Alabama (NR) W 37-36 9-29
2002 Holtz Georgia (# 9) L 7-13 9-14
2003 Holtz Kentucky (NR) W 27-21 10-9
2004 Holtz Georgia (# 3) L 16-20 9-9
2005 Spurrier Alabama (NR) L 14-37 9-17
2006 Spurrier Georgia (# 12) L 8-18 9-9
2007 Spurrier Miss State (# 16) W 38-21 9-29
2008 Spurrier Georgia (# 2) L 7-14 9-13
2009 Spurrier Ole Miss (# 4) W 16-0 9-24
2010 Spurrier Georgia (# 22) W 17-16 9-11
2011 Spurrier Vanderbilt (NR) W 21-3 9-24
2012 Spurrier Missouri (NR) W 31-10 9-22
2013 Spurrier Vanderbilt (NR) W 35-25 9-14
2014 Spurrier Texas A&M (# 21) L 58-22 8-28

No doubt the best one here hands down was the gut-busting victory over Houston Nutt's # 4 Ole Miss Rebels in 2009, with honorable mentions for the dominating performances in 2012 v. Mizzou and 2007 v. Miss State; all of which we have the HBC to thank.

Conclusion

Do the historical numbers suggest an outcome tonight?  Probably not.  Spurrier has had UK's number both overall and at USC. But after convincing victories over the Cats in 2011 (54-3) and 2012 (38-17), Big Blue has played us tooth-hook-and-nail the last two games.  The last time we opened the SEC Season at home against the 'Cats ('93, '95) was back in the 1990s during the Sparky Woods-Brad Scott era, when Bill Curry coached UK and Wildcats were on a great-streak against us (5-3); that's all ancient history too.  It's going to come down to coaching and execution not the record book.

Poll & Comment

Since we already know what the worst SEC opener loss for the Cocks, which one was the best.  Leave a comment about your best memories in the first game of any season against a SEC foe.

GO COCKS. BEAT UK!