South Carolina Gamecocks football hasn't been a program that's been referred to as a "powerhouse" in its long history.
It's unfortunate for Gamecock fans, but things have been looking up in recent years. The first SEC division title came in 2010, and a 10-win regular season in 2011—with a potential 11th in the upcoming bowl game—are signs that this sleeping giant is close to waking up and making a statement in the college football landscape.
The start of bowl season is just a few days away. And while we sit in this dead period with no college football at all, it's a good time to look back and talk about the greatest bowl game victories in South Carolina history.
History tells us that there's only four victories right now; but they each were celebrated greatly by Gamecocks fans.
Here's a look at the greatest bowl victories in South Carolina football history.
South Carolina's first bowl game victory came on January 2nd, 1995, in the Carquest Bowl, against the West Virginia Mountaineers.
The Gamecocks had a quarterback by the name of Steve Taneyhill at the helm, and his MVP performance helped bring South Carolina a 24-21 victory over West Virginia. Taneyhill finished 26-for-36 passing, throwing for 227 yards with one touchdown. He also rushed for another score, as well.
South Carolina running back Stanley Pritchett scored a touchdown in the third quarter to push the Gamecocks' lead to 24-14 at that point. Another USC running back, Brandon Bennett, added 100 yards rushing on the ground.
West Virginia mounted several attempts at a comeback but fell short in the final minutes of the game, turning the ball over twice, allowing South Carolina to seal the victory.
The Gamecocks' first bowl win is littered with the names of some of the greats in program history. It's a special win and one that will be remembered for years to come.
The 2000 regular season was quite a turnaround for the South Carolina Gamecocks.
Lou Holtz guided the Gamecocks to a 7-4 regular season record, after finishing the 1999 season winless at 0-11. The reward for the Gamecocks' brilliant year was a trip to Florida in the Outback Bowl against the Ohio State Buckeyes.
This game will forever be known as "The Ryan Brewer Beatdown."
It's an unofficial title, but Ohio native Ryan Brewer put his name in the Gamecocks history books with his performance against Ohio State that lead the Gamecocks to a 24-7 victory for their second bowl game win.
Brewer rushed for 109 yards on 19 carries and had three catches for 92 yards. He scored all three of the Gamecocks' touchdowns that day, as he had two rushing scores and one receiving.
The game was a defensive struggle in the first half, but South Carolina's defense forced three turnovers, and the Gamecocks capitalized with 21 points off of those turnovers. Ohio State was held to just 258 total yards on the day, so this was a big game from both sides of the ball for USC.
This was a great finish to a remarkable turnaround season for the Gamecocks.
The 2002 edition of the Outback Bowl was a rematch of the previous year, when South Carolina and Ohio State earned bids to play in this bowl game down in Florida.
This year's version looked like it would turn out the same as the before, with South Carolina winning big. The Gamecocks built up a 28-0 lead late in the third quarter, with quarterback Phil Petty throwing two touchdown passes and running back Andrew Pinnock scoring two rushing touchdowns.
It took a while, but Ohio State woke up late in the third quarter. Quarterback Steve Bellisari scored a 2-yard rushing touchdown to make it 28-7 at the end of the third quarter. He would then find Darnell Sanders for a touchdown to make it 28-14. After turnovers each by Ohio State and South Carolina, running back Jonathan Wells scored a rushing touchdown to make it 28-21.
Hoping to end the comeback, USC took possession but failed to produce and went three-and-out on the possession giving the ball back to Ohio State. A touchdown with 1:54 on the clock tied the game at 28 a piece, and the comeback was almost complete.
The ending of this game was like a story out of a children's book. Ohio State picked off a South Carolina pass in the closing minutes. The next possession saw Ohio State throw an interception back to the Gamecocks that Sheldon Brown returned for good field position for South Carolina.
The final play came down to the leg of Daniel Weaver, who kicked the game-winning field goal for South Carolina from 42 yards, capping another bowl game victory for South Carolina.
This is the program's first back-to-back bowl game victories in school history and certainly turned out to be a very entertaining game on New Year's Day.
Luckily for South Carolina fans, it ended up in victory.
The 2006 Liberty Bowl saw an offensive explosion, a game that entertained the fans all the way down to the final minute.
Both South Carolina and Houston put up some big numbers in this game, as each team gained over 500 yards of total offense. However, South Carolina would have the last laugh with a few late turnovers to seal a 44-36 victory over the Houston Cougars.
Gamecocks quarterback Blake Mitchell threw for 323 yards on 19-for-29 passing and had four passing touchdowns. Mitchell would earn MVP honors for his performance. South Carolina's star receiver, Sidney Rice, had eight catches for 139 yards and one touchdown on the day and running back Cory Boyd finished the afternoon with 94 yards on 18 attempts with two rushing touchdowns.
The back-and-forth affair found Houston leading 28-27 at the half, a record for total points scored in a half. Houston quarterback Kevin Kolb was lights-out in the first half and finished the game with 386 yards passing and three touchdowns.
It was a much different story as the Gamecocks held Houston to just eight points in the second half, as USC took advantage of a strong third-quarter defensive performance.
Defensive end Jordin Lindsey had two turnovers in the second half that set up 13 points for the Gamecocks and helped ensure Steve Spurrier's first bowl game victory at South Carolina.
South Carolina finished the year at 8-5 with a victory in the Liberty Bowl, ending the year on a three-game winning streak. A solid year for Coach Spurrier that would eventually lead to bigger and better things for the Gamecocks.
The South Carolina Gamecocks have had a few close calls in bowl games in their history.
The most recent bowl game was the 2010 Chick-Fil-A Bowl against Florida State. USC lost to FSU by a score of 26-17 but mounted a comeback in the second half after trailing 13-3 at halftime. Four first-half turnovers by the Gamecocks, including three interceptions by quarterback Stephen Garcia, put the Gamecocks in a hole. They also lost freshman running back Marcus Lattimore to injury on the first possession.
Garcia lead the comeback in the second half, though, and had USC within two points in the fourth quarter with a score of 19-17. FSU would use a E.J. Manuel touchdown pass with about five and a half minutes left to take a 26-17 lead and wouldn't look back.
Another recent bowl game that comes to mind is the Gamecocks' bowl game in 2005 against Missouri in the Independence Bowl.
The Gamecocks built up a quick 21-0 lead in the first quarter against Missouri. Brad Smith of Missouri had different plans, though, and mounted a comeback for the Tigers, as he accounted for 431 of the 504 total yards of offense for Missouri.
South Carolina had great performances from quarterback Blake Mitchell, running back Mike Davis and wide receiver Sidney Rice.
It wasn't enough, though, as Smith scored the game-winning touchdown with 2:13 left in the fourth quarter. South Carolina lost to Missouri 38-31 on the day, in another close matchup in a bowl game for the Gamecocks.
The Gamecocks also came close in the 1984 Gator Bowl, against Oklahoma State. The Cowboys led 13-0 at halftime, but South Carolina pulled to a one-point lead in the third quarter by scoring 14 points in that quarter. Oklahoma State would score a touchdown in the fourth quarter and convert the two-point conversion to finish off the Gamecocks with a score of 21-14.
As you can see, there have been a few close calls for the Gamecocks in bowl games in their history. They certainly haven't had their luck in recent years, losing three straight bowl games. But the hope is the tide will turn in 2012 in the Capital One Bowl.
Things are looking up for the Gamecocks and a strong finish in their bowl game could lead to big things in 2012.