South Carolina finished the season ranked No. 8 in the Coaches Poll and No. 9 in the AP poll. This puts a great big stamp on a historic 2011.
As the final feather in the cap, the Gamecocks have a great deal to crow about. Let's take one final look at all this team accomplished:
-Finshed with 11 wins for the first time in school history.
-Finished 5-0 in the SEC East.
-Beat Clemson for the third straight season, officially showing that the tide has turned.
-Lost their starting running back and quarterback, and still won.
-Won the most prestigious bowl that the team has ever played in dominating fashion.
-Finished third in total defense.
-Finished in the top ten of the AP, Coaches, and BCS polls for the first time.
The Gamecocks also finished off a historic two-year span that will go down as a defining turning point in the program's long-standing history.
-Won 20 games in two years.
-Finished 8-0 against Clemson, Florida, Georgia and Tennessee in two seasons.
-Won the SEC East in 2010 and was the best team against Eastern teams in 2011.
-Finished ranked for two years straight.
It has been an incredibly fun and rewarding journey following the team in 2011. Now, the fun part. 2012 will be a season with even higher expectations than this season. Two goals have been accomplished these last two years. Winning 11 games, and winning the SEC East.
Now, the sights will be set higher.
It has to be SEC Championship or bust next year. It should be. You are returning a quarterback who showed flashed of absolute brilliance this year and whose preparation and determination could make him one of the SEC's finest quarterbacks. A Heisman candidate runner is returning from injury. The Gamecocks proved that they have the depth to compete with anyone, and with another potential top-10 recruiting class coming, they have more coming.
That's how good programs think. South Carolina is now a good program. Make no mistake. However, they have a ways to go before they can be considered elite, or even a top-10 program.
The team won't get cocky. The fans shouldn't get cocky. This was a wonderful stepping stone in the grand scheme of things, but there is more out there. You should be excited.
The best is yet to come.