When you're a program with a track record of mediocrity, being thrust into the spotlight is a new feeling. Being thrust into that spotlight and being expected to succeed is an unenviable situation when you haven't been there before.
The University of South Carolina, as a whole has never been considered a consistent contender, let alone a powerhouse. The exception being baseball, where they are reigning 2010 National Champions. Football is a much different story.
In early October, the Gamecocks became the second school in history, but also the second in four years to defeat a No. 1 team in three different sports—the major men's sports—football, basketball and baseball. Alabama in football, Kentucky in basketball and Arizona State in baseball.
2010 was predicted to be a big year for Steve Spurrier's football Gamecocks. Four wins and two losses at the halfway point wasn't expected. Both losses were heart breakers. All four wins were by 10 points or more. In an honest assessment, both losses came from very correctable mistakes.
The Gamecocks correcting them will take work. Work the players seem willing to do. They just have to do it. The defense is in bad shape with good players. There have been execution problems, but the scheme, a soft zone, is questionable at best. Especially in the physically demanding SEC.
Where the Gamecocks aren't used to being considered contenders, they also aren't used to being targets. The bottom half of the SEC East is typically South Carolina, Kentucky and Vanderbilt. South Carolina is still leading the SEC East.
Kentucky and Vanderbilt face the same situation. First year head coaches looking for a signature first year win. South Carolina hasn't been a "signature win" since it joined the SEC almost 20 years ago. In 2010 they are, and Vanderbilt and Kentucky are throwing or will throw everything at the Gamecocks.
Another unheralded fact about the 2010 Gamecocks is that they are still a young team. Stephen Garcia is a junior. There are only a handful of seniors, even less than that get substantial playing time. The "stars" of the team are largely underclassmen.
Stephon Gilmore, Alshon Jeffery and DeVonte Hollomon are sophomores. Marcus Lattimore, Ace Sanders, and Lamar Scruggs are freshman. Patrick DiMarco is a senior. There is still a lot of room for growth and experience on the Gamecock roster.
The Alabama win, as well as the Auburn and Kentucky losses are key points to build on. If you execute you can beat the nation's best team by two touchdowns—if you don't you lose. If you can pinpoint the mistakes from the losses, which you can, you correct them and learn from them.
Several Gamecock players, who I won't name have commented on the ending of the Kentucky game. Steve Spurrier is getting ripped by national media left and right. Somewhere Les Miles is smiling, but I digress. The Gamecocks have to work as an entire unit to be truly successful.
Tori Gurley, a Gamecock wide receiver has said that the team needs to be studying and reading their playbook, game plan and scouting reports. It's commendable for players to step up and challenge the rest of their team. The Gamecocks have a question mark at the "leader" position. Maybe Gurley is stepping into that role.
Another leader of the offense that still hasn't had a chance to blossom is Stephen Garcia. Garcia played a Heisman game against Alabama, then set a new career high for yards passing against Kentucky. Spurrier though, refuses to give Garcia the reigns.
If you watch Garcia play football, not run the Spurrier system, you see an incredible football player. Stephen Garcia is NFL caliber. If he were at another high profile school, he would be in contention for the Heisman trophy. The Gamecocks system may be his weakest point—not knowledge of the system but the tightness of the reigns.
Garcia will likely epitomize Steve Spurrier's grip on his quarterbacks. Spurrier's prized pupils were NFL backups, at best. The much maligned Garcia, if given the chance, will outperform Spurrier's best college quarterbacks at the next level.
Spurrier isn't the only problem. He is what he was when he started. He will not change. I've posed the question of how his legacy will be remembered—with good reason. Is his success driven by players or are his players successful because of him?
The rest of 2010 will ultimately determine how Steve Spurrier is remembered—at least in the Carolinas. I stated months ago that 2010 was his year to prove he could do it. No matter the final record in 2010, 2011 will be the year to prove if he deserves to be the head ball coach anymore.
An SEC Championship in 2010 will be written off by detractors because the SEC East was "down." 2011 may see the return of Georgia and Florida to prominence. So 2011 is the year, with largely the same talent with more experience, when he has to prove he still has it.
The Gamecocks are favorites this year. 2010 can't be written off yet. They have showed they can win big in big games. A trip to Atlanta isn't out of the question. Everyone has to step up. The seniors to go out on a high note. The juniors for the team and for continued success. The underclassmen for their future and what could still be this year, and what may be ahead.