COLUMBIA, S.C. - Coaches in all sports are fond of saying, "It's not where you start, it's where you finish."
Maybe, but in the FBS of college football, the only NCAA sport without a playoff, where a team starts can certainly impact where it finishes.
In the case of South Carolina, the Gamecocks are in position to have the best finish in school history thanks to the best start in school history, a No. 7 ranking in the ESPN preseason poll.
Actually, the Gamecocks were ranked sixth in the AP preseason poll, but that poll isn't used in the BCS formula, and the BCS standings are all that matter.
At present, the Gamecocks (7-2) are the highest-ranked two-loss team in the BCS at 12th, ahead of two unbeaten teams—No. 16. Fresno State (8-0) and No. 19 Northern Illinois (9-0)—and four teams with one loss—No. 14 Oklahoma State (7-1), No. 17 Michigan State (8-1) and No. 20 Louisville (7-1).
This is not to suggest South Carolina is undeserving of its ranking.
The Gamecocks' losses have been on the road to SEC foes Georgia and Tennessee.
They have a bell-ringer victory over then No. 5 (and unbeaten at the time) Missouri, and a narrow 28-25 road victory over Central Florida looks a lot better now that the Knights are 6-1 and ranked No. 21 in the BCS.
South Carolina's program has gained status as an upper-tier SEC program in recent years under coach Steve Spurrier with 11-2 finishes each of the last two seasons that included bowl victories over Nebraska and Michigan.
Alabama, Oregon and Stanford are the only other BCS schools to win 11 or more games each of the last two seasons, so the Gamecocks have been keeping fast company.
The Gamecocks finished 12th in the final BCS standings last season, No. 7 in the final coaches poll and No. 8 in AP.
It was their best finish ever, but South Carolina still fell short of competing in the school's first-ever BCS bowl.
South Carolina is still in there with a chance this season.
The Gamecocks have remaining games with unranked Florida, and Coastal Carolina, but a season-ending victory over currently seventh-ranked Clemson would give them a boost.
Of course, the Gamecocks also need to win the SEC East and then win the SEC Championship Game, very likely to be against an unbeaten and No. 1-ranked Alabama team.
That victory there would make those BCS dreams a reality, with a possibility, however remote, of playing for a national championship.
If that remarkable and improbable finish were to occur, the Gamecocks would do well to remember where it all started.
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