Can South Carolina Reach First BCS Title Game in Spite of Itself?
The South Carolina Gamecocks enter 2013 ranked No. 6, and if history reveals anything, it’s that South Carolina is its own biggest roadblock to reaching the BCS National Championship Game for the first time in program history.
South Carolina has put together back-to-back 11-2 seasons for the first time in school history, but all that’s gotten the Gamecocks are Capital One and Outback bowl appearances. If not for self-inflicted losses, those could have been BCS bowl and perhaps national championship appearances.
There are questions at linebacker, and the offensive line needs to pass protect better; they’ve given up 68 sacks the last two years. But, Steve Spurrier has two solid quarterbacks in Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson, a stable of good running backs and receivers, and the best defensive player in college football – Jadeveon Clowney.
The Gamecocks’ schedule is friendlier than its East Division counterparts, the Florida Gators and Georgia Bulldogs. South Carolina gets most of its big games at home: North Carolina Tar Heels (Aug. 29), Florida (Nov. 16) and Clemson Tigers (Nov. 30).
It will have to go on the road against No. 5 Georgia (Sept. 7), but South Carolina misses the big three from the West this year: No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide, No. 12 LSU Tigers and No. 7 Texas A&M Aggies.
However, history has proven that nobody knows how to keep South Carolina out of championship contention like South Carolina:
Oct. 13, 2012: No. 6 Gamecocks are run over by No. 9 LSU
One week after obliterating No. 5 Georgia 35-7, South Carolina was outgained by LSU 406 yards to 211. The Gamecocks, however, were still ahead late 21-19. But Connor Shaw’s threw an interceptions that set up LSU for the go-ahead field goal.
Oct. 20, 2012: No. 7 Gamecocks blow shot at redemption against No. 2 Florida
The following week, things got truly bizarre in a way only a program with South Carolina’s heritage of tough luck can. Despite outgaining Florida, the Gamecocks were outscored 44-11. Huh? How is it even possible to give up less than 200 total yards and yield more than 40 points?
Well, it started on the first play of the game. Shaw was sacked and fumbled. Florida recovered at the two and promptly took a 6-0 lead. The Gamecocks would turn the ball over four times and never got close to the Gators. Had they won this or the LSU game, the Gamecocks would have played Alabama in December instead of Georgia.
A similar scenario played out for the Gamecocks in 2011, when they let a late lead slip away at home, and with it an opportunity to play for the SEC title.
Oct. 1, 2011: No. 10 Gamecocks lose to unranked Auburn Tigers at home
Despite having plenty of motivation from losing twice to Auburn in 2010, including a humiliating 56-17 blowout in the SEC championship, No. 10 South Carolina let an Auburn team teetering on the edge of disaster walk out of Williams-Bryce Stadium with a win. South Carolina turned the ball over four times in the 16-13 loss and barely managed a pulse on offense against a Tigers defense that hadn’t stopped anybody to that point in the season.
The loss kept them out of the SEC championship, as their only other blemish came against a good Arkansas team. Georgia, whose lone SEC loss came at the hands of South Carolina, faced LSU in the conference title game instead.
2010: The year that could have been
The year before in 2010, South Carolina made it to the SEC Championship Game, only to be embarrassed by Auburn 56-17 in the most lopsided SEC championship ever.
Earlier that season, the Gamecocks let two games slip away, including a Sept. 25 contest at Auburn. South Carolina led most of the game, but four fourth-quarter turnovers helped the Tigers pull off a 35-27 victory. The Gamecocks twice drove into Auburn territory in the final minutes, but Shaw, then a freshman, was intercepted each time.
Two weeks later, South Carolina lost to Kentucky, again turning the ball over four times. That allowed the Wildcats to pull off an 18-point comeback. Before that game, Kentucky had lost 10 straight to the Gamecocks and had never beaten Spurrier in 17 tries.