Looking for a little slice of history, South Carolina found it this season and broke through with a first-ever trip to the SEC championship game.
Sure, there will be skeptics that point to the Gamecocks’ 56-17 beatdown last Saturday by Auburn in Atlanta and say they weren’t worthy. The same goes for the Eastern Division being so down this season. South Carolina’s the only team in the division that finished with a winning league record.
And while the lopsided loss to Auburn in the SEC championship game was certainly disappointing, the Gamecocks (9-4) aren’t about to give anything back. They beat Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Tennessee all in the same season, and the win over the Crimson Tide came when Nick Saban and Co. were ranked No. 1 in the country and riding a 19-game winning streak.
The inconsistency that has historically plagued this program wasn’t as much of a problem this season. Other than the second half against Kentucky when the Gamecocks blew an 18-point lead and lost, they zoned in and never lost sight of that East crown.
The pass defense was disappointing. The Gamecocks are more talented than they played in the secondary.
Offensively, quarterback Stephen Garcia played well for much of the year and finally drew some praise from Steve Spurrier. The Marcus Lattimore-Alshon Jeffery combo was spectacular. They became the first duo in school history to have 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving in the same season.
Offensive MVP: Running back Marcus Lattimore. Tough choice here between Lattimore and Jeffery. Both are deserving. But the Gamecocks were at their best when Lattimore was at his best. He rushed for nearly 1,200 yards and scored 19 touchdowns, just one away from tying the SEC freshman record for touchdowns in a season.
Defensive MVP: Defensive end Devin Taylor. The Gamecocks played well in their front four this season, and it was a breakout season for Taylor. He led the team with 12 tackles for loss, including 7.5 sacks. South Carolina led the SEC with 39 sacks.
Turning point: The 35-21 win over then No. 1-ranked Alabama was a huge day for the program, the first time South Carolina had ever beaten a No. 1 team. It was a win the Gamecocks really needed, too, after losing two weeks earlier at Auburn and coming off a bye.
What’s next: The Gamecocks get a second shot in the Georgia Dome when they return to Atlanta on Dec. 31 to face Florida State in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. It’s a chance to win 10 games for only the second time in school history. From a bigger picture standpoint, when you look at everybody the Gamecocks have returning next season, they should be the favorite to win the East for a second straight year.