COLUMBIA, S.C. - So, here's South Carolina a bowl victory away from finishing 11-2 for an unprecedented third consecutive year, and yet, there's also that tinge of regret.
That inexplicable 23-21 loss at Tennessee, a game which the Gamecocks should have won by a comfortable margin, still haunts, and probably always will whenever a discussion of the 2013 season ensues among South Carolina fans.
Win that one, and the Gamecocks are right where Missouri finds itself, probably ranked fifth in the BCS, definitely headed to the SEC Championship game with an outside shot at playing for a national championship and a BCS bowl very much in the picture.
That would be rarefied air for South Carolina, something the Gamecocks have never sniffed. However, from a practical standpoint, the air they're in right now should smell pretty good.
Before Steve Spurrier arrived to lead the Gamecocks out of the wilderness, South Carolina wallowed in football mediocrity for more than a century, the benchmark season of all time coming in 1984 when the Gamecocks' 10-2 season included a loss to Navy and a Gator Bowl loss to Oklahoma State.
The Gamecocks didn't even win their first bowl game until 1995, and that was the CarQuest Bowl of all things.
Now, the Gamecocks are playing to a new standard with a new set of expectations.
While that's all well and good, and disappointment over losing the Tennessee game is understandable, the Gamecocks should be counting their blessings.
This year's team hasn't exactly been dominant. It has been more a case of a gritty, determined bunch that managed to find a way to win most of the year.
Forget the loss at Georgia. Not many what ifs there. South Carolina's defense at that point of the season wasn't mature enough to handle the Bulldogs in Athens, Ga. at full strength.
The Gamecocks were fortunate to win on the road at Central Florida and incredibly fortunate to win at Missouri in two overtimes.
Florida, on the strength of a defense that held the Gamecocks to field goals much of the day, was one big play away from an upset.
Clemson gift-wrapped Saturday's game with a big, orange bow in the form of six turnovers, although South Carolina definitely earned it.
Those Gamecock fans who are disappointed by another 11-2 season, or even a 10-3, should stop and reassess.
Remember where the Gamecocks have been. Take a nice look at where they are now. And savor it.
Nothing lasts forever.
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