While the University of South Carolina football team has yet to win the much-desired SEC championship – hardly an easy feat in the toughest collegiate league in America – let alone mount a real challenge for the national title, the Gamecock program undeniably has risen to a new level of prominence.
And it has taken the university, fans and this state along for the ride. The folks in Gamecock nation are as proud as peacocks these days.
Without a doubt, it's important to keep sports in perspective at our institutions of higher education, where developing bright young minds and conducting meaningful research must remain the priories. But it's undeniable that winning football programs boost enrollment, increase fundraising, support local economies and instill pride not only at the colleges but across the state. The winning attitude and accompanying results that have developed at USC during coach Steve Spurrier's tenure certainly have permeated the Gamecock faithful. The same can be said for the laudable success Clemson has had under coach Dabo Sweeney.
The Gamecocks continued their winning ways last Wednesday with their 34-24 victory over Wisconsin in the Capital One Bowl. It's safe to say that USC will finish ranked in the Top 10 for the third consecutive year, a first.
The win also marked the third straight year in which USC has won 11 games, the winningest stretch in school history. The only other time the team won at least 10 games was in 1984.
The Gamecocks, whose 18-game home winning streak is the longest in the country, have posted 42 wins in the past four years; that's more than the 41 recorded in the entire decade of the 1990s.
To top it all off, South Carolina has beaten Clemson for five consecutive seasons, its longest winning streak in the 111-year history of the series.
Coach Spurrier's team will lose all-everything Jadeveon Clowney, Kelcy Quarles and other junior stars to the NFL, but only five scholarship seniors, including starting quarterback Conner Shaw, will exit the program.
There is every reason to believe the Gamecocks once again will field an outstanding team next season.
The Gamecocks' Upstate brothers, the Clemson Tigers, haven't managed to defeat USC in the past five years, but they, too, have established themselves on the national scene. Led by standouts such as quarterback Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins, both of whom we expect to see in NFL uniforms next season, Clemson has won at least 10 games each of the past three years; it's the Tigers' first such streak since they did it four consecutive years during 1986-90.
The Tigers further buillt their resume in an Orange Bowl matchup against Ohio State.
The win gave Clemson its second straight 11-win season. USC and Clemson have put South Carolina on the national college pigskin map. Neither has hit the elite status yet, but considering the stability of these two programs, the best might be yet to come.