From the dreary days immediately following the Belk Bowl through that equally sad stretch ahead of us until August 31, South Carolina fans have to sit with a strange and bad taste in their mouths about the 2018 football season. At this point, I think you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone — even the most faithful — willing to consider this year a success, and rightfully so. The question, then, is this: How much of a failure was the Gamecocks’ 2018 campaign? I’m not trying to rip open any fresh wounds here, but with the New Year, it’s time for some reflection.
Improve on, or at least match, last season’s win total
Nope. This one was probably the most surprising to me, because going in, I thought this was the easiest schedule South Carolina had in years. No powerhouse opponents from the SEC West, Georgia came to Columbia, and the Gamecocks actually played a cupcake in the opener instead of a Power 5 school. Unfortunately, things just didn’t break South Carolina’s way — the Gamecocks, who won their share of close games in 2017, couldn’t repeat that performance in 2018 — and that manageable schedule only got more and more daunting as the injuries piled up. There’s really no explanation for this other than simply: It be like that sometimes. (Please don’t ask or talk to me about next year’s schedule.)
The never-ending nightmare continues. I wanted this game more than any other on the schedule except Clemson, and here we are, staring at an inexplicable five-year losing streak to the Wildcats. Kentucky did at least have a very good season, but if the Gamecocks want to ascend through the SEC East — and more importantly, not lose ground to other challengers — they simply can’t afford to keep losing this matchup.
Beat Texas A&M
Sigh. South Carolina’s rotten scheduling luck with the SEC West really reared its head here — now that Arkansas has fallen completely off a cliff, the Hawgs are no longer the Gamecocks’ permanent rival. Instead, South Carolina was given Texas A&M, which — in addition to currently being much better than Arkansas — also just seems to have USC’s number to an absurd degree. It’s to the point that I will literally not pick the Gamecocks to win this game until I see it happen with my own two eyes, and it’s been another frustrating five-peat to watch.
Compete with Georgia and Clemson
This one gets partial credit, because for the first time in Will Muschamp’s tenure as head coach, South Carolina looked like it actually understood the rules of the sport against Clemson. The Gamecocks put up an astonishing offensive performance on the Tigers’ vaunted defense, and while a late touchdown made it look comfortable, Clemson had to work for that one more than I think fans in both camps expected.
The Georgia game, however, was a comedy of errors almost immediately, starting from a pick-six that was corralled after a pass bounced off of Rico Dowdle’s facemask and devolving from there. It was a humbling, gee-I-guess-we’re-kinda-far-away moment if there ever was one.
Win the bowl game
Hoo boy. Prior to the disaster in Charlotte, I’d actually kind of forgotten how bad South Carolina could be (and usually has been) in bowls. Sure, there was the overtime loss to South Florida a couple years ago, but that was a competitive game with a furious comeback that fell just short. The Belk Bowl, on the other hand, brought back all kinds of horrifying memories, reminding me most uncomfortably of the Papa John’s Bowl against UConn in 2009. Just as they did then, the Gamecocks looked like they hadn’t watched a single second of film and expected to be handed a trophy just for showing up, while their opponent attacked the game like it was the Super Bowl. It was the exact wrong way to end a turbulent and lackluster season, and now we all have to just sit with it for the next several months.
So, uh, yeah — there’s not a whole lot to write home about when you go 7-6. What do y’all think? What goals did you have in mind before this season started, and in your estimation, where did the Gamecocks end up?