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November 29, 2010

Orange Crushed

It would always sit at the end of the schedule, innocent at first and becoming increasingly ominous as it approached. South Carolina's overall record may be good at the beginning of the year, but once the leaves started changing, so did the Gamecocks' fortunes.

Then by the time the leaves fell, USC's record was usually among them.

The Orange Crush, so named due to the color schemes of the usual final three opponents on the Gamecocks' schedule, would dash USC's dreams year after year. The combined talents of Tennessee, Florida and Clemson and the Gamecocks' futility against them would take away thoughts of the postseason, either dropping USC from high-ranking bowl to mid-level bowl or, usually, from mid-level bowl to nothing.

But in a season of firsts, the Gamecocks have accomplished another. The Orange Crush of 2010:

Win, win, win.

"I never really thought about that," said senior kicker Spencer Lanning, after last week's 29-7 win at Clemson. "We just approached it as we wanted to win as many of our games as possible. But you're right, we have lost a lot of those since I've been here."

Steve Spurrier has had better success than the other coaches who have battled the Crush, beating Clemson three times, Florida twice and Tennessee three times. The wins over the Gators are the only times USC has beaten them since joining the SEC.

Otherwise, it's been forgettable. Sparky Woods beat the Volunteers and Tigers once each (1992), then went 0-3 vs. the Crush the next year and was relieved of command. Brad Scott beat Clemson twice in five years, but was a combined 0-10 against the other two.

Lou Holtz had the worst of it, going a combined 1-17 against the Crush over six seasons. His lone win was against Clemson in 2001, and he wasn't able to take advantage of a rare shuffle of the Crush, when Tennessee was moved to a September kickoff in 2003. The Gamecocks fought hard, but lost in overtime; Holtz's tenure brought a spotlight and national exposure to Columbia, but the late-season wins were almost non-existent.

Spurrier entered and shocked the state by pulling off two wins (Tennessee and Florida) in 2005, but the Clemson win to pull off the sweep was four points short. Spurrier got the Clemson win in 2006, but not Tennessee or Florida; the years leading to 2010 featured one win over Tennessee (2008) and one over Clemson (2009).

This year, it all came together. The Volunteers had a down season, but were tied at 24 with USC in the fourth quarter before the Gamecocks scored two late touchdowns. Florida fell to USC in The Swamp for the first time as the SEC East championship was clinched.

Then came Saturday, where USC gave up an early touchdown but dominated the final 58 minutes of game clock.

Afterward, the Gamecocks spoke of how happy they were about winning the rivalry game, about staying focused even with the SEC Championship Game on tap, about winning nine games for just the third time in school history. "It was a big stage here tonight, and it was a big stage down in Florida," Spurrier said. "But the really big stage is down in Atlanta."

No one spoke of the Orange Crush until asked about it.

Perhaps because it is finally dead.

USC-Clemson Game Week sponsored by Mallard Orchard Hunt Club

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