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The feeling is back: South Carolina football rekindles past magic in 2016

The beginning of the 2016 season brought with it many new and lingering questions about the Gamecocks program. Now, with three games remaining, a wave of momentum appears to be in progress.

NCAA Football: Tennessee at South Carolina Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

When South Carolina’s football program finally turned the corner somewhere around 2009 or 2010, you could feel it. It was hard to put your finger on exactly, but it was there. You could sense it in the team, the fans, the feeling you got in the pit of your stomach on Saturdays – something had changed. It was as if Spurrier’s first few years of being a middling 6 or 7-win SEC team had been ripped away like a band aid, and suddenly, everything was fresh and new. What a glorious feeling it was.

We, as a fan base, got to ride that wave of change to the best stretch of football in the history of our program over the next three seasons. We always found ways to win. We thrived in big games. We owned our neighbors to the north. There was a quiet confidence that permeated our fan base which had never been seen before. Simply put: it had finally happened. We had arrived. Things were good and they were going to keep being good.

Until, of course, they weren’t.

Like Icarus, who, filled with hubris, flew too close to the sun and paid the price, South Carolina’s football program basked in the red-hot glow of success for too long instead of doing everything it could to stay there. Slowly, over the next two years, we watched in horror as our worst fears were realized from week to painful week. The program became complacent, and as a result, imploded from the ground up; everything that was built seemingly destroyed. That palpable feeling that had lived in the air for Gamecock fans over the last few years suddenly vanished and all that was left was the ashes of a once-promising program now sentenced to what felt like eternal mediocrity. Losses mounted, changes had to be made and in December of last year, after a month-long search, the Gamecocks hired Will Muschamp.

Much like the South Carolina football program, Muschamp had seen the face of the sun. At one time the hottest name in coaching, Muschamp had seen it all come crashing down at Florida and was left to pick up the pieces. Detractors hated the hire, while our rivals and the national media laughed at it and labeled the Carolina coaching search an epic failure. And yet, for most Gamecock fans, there was something familiar about Muschamp. He was blue-collar. He was gritty. He was determined to come back stronger despite having fallen from the top. From the get-go you could see it: he was one of us.

And so we got behind him. We pulled for him. We cheered for him and his staff as they made huge strides in recruiting despite having a bare cupboard to sell. Optimism rose. Things began to look up. Something was stirring in the ashes. Then the season began.

NCAA Football: East Carolina at South Carolina Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Not everything was bad – our defense had improved dramatically, players were more disciplined and we did win a couple games. But still, old worries began to rear their ugly heads. The offense struggled, as we knew it likely would, but even worse than expected. Losses to Mississippi State, Kentucky and a beatable Georgia team stung, as we all began to strap in for what looked like a long and strenuous road back to relevancy.

Doubts crept into the psyche of our fan base as our record sank to 2-4. Muschamp’s baggage came to the forefront of our minds. The optimism and hopeful glimmer that had highlighted the offseason was suddenly in jeopardy of being swallowed up by the dark cloud that had plagued our program since 2014. No one expected much, but we were struggling and you couldn’t help but wonder, would we ever, truly, find our way out of this? Had the best that Gamecock football had to offer already come and gone?

The 2016 season was at a crossroads. As a team, fan base and program, we needed a spark.

Instead, we got a perfect storm.

NCAA Football: Missouri at South Carolina
Rico Dowdle has been key to a Carolina program that has gained momentum headed into the latter part of 2016 - and beyond.
Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

It’s hard to put into words how massive the last three weeks have been for South Carolina football. More has gone the Gamecocks way in the past 21 days than in the previous three years combined. The rapid, and still-building, groundswell of momentum is staggering: We got two SEC wins, including one over the most talented team in our division. We got a quarterback the likes of which we’ve never seen before. We got a tailback who brings back memories of You-Know-Who. We got a healthy Deebo coming into his own. We got a defense that defies the odds over and over again. We got a team on the edge of bowl eligibility.

And to top it off, we got all of it at the same time.

Suddenly, the cloud that hovered over Columbia for the last three years has been drowned out by an influx of young talent so bright, you can’t help but look ahead; young talent we haven’t seen since the last time we were about to turn a corner.

From the ashes of what once was, we’ve begun to see a glimpse of what will be. We’re light-years from where we want to go, but also light-years from where we were and, by all accounts, where we should be at this point in the post-Spurrier era. The rebuild isn’t over, but it’s been accelerated. People are talking about the Gamecocks again and they should be.

The last time we were turning the corner you could feel it. This time is no different.

South Carolina has finally found its way out of the college football wilderness. The feeling is back and it’s rolling in like a flood.

Get on board, everybody. The Gamecocks are coming.