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September 26, 2012

History in the way



It's one of those things where there will always be something unsettling to compare it to, because South Carolina, as successful as it's been over the past three years, just doesn't have an overflowing rich history. There have been moments of success, absolutely.

But mostly moments of ignominy.

"It was a bad thing for us," senior linebacker Quin Smith said on Tuesday.

Yes, yes it was. And while it's over and done with, it begged to be brought up as a joining of two former wretched moments.

South Carolina, flying high at No. 6 in the country, travels to Kentucky on Saturday. The Gamecocks (4-0, 2-0 SEC) are 21-point favorites over the pitiful Wildcats (1-3, 0-1), who have had two straight embarrassing losses, the first an overtime defeat to Western Kentucky and the next a shutout fiasco to Florida.

USC should win, easily. Yet there's always that historical angle …

The last time the Gamecocks were No. 6 in the country, they lost to a Vanderbilt team at home when they were heavily favored. The last time the Gamecocks played at Kentucky, the lost to a team that they were dominating throughout the first half.

Both of those criteria come into play on Saturday. Players and coaches have been asked about "the last time."

All responded the same way - "the last time" was the last time. Saturday isn't the last time.

"I don't think you have to worry about that with us," quarterback Connor Shaw said, declaring there was no way the Gamecocks would overlook the Wildcats to a potentially season-defining game against Georgia next week. "The last time we went up to Kentucky, they upset us, so we have something to prove."

Two years ago, USC was No. 10 in the country and the toast of the country after ending No. 1 Alabama's 19-game winning streak. It was the first time the Gamecocks had ever knocked off a No. 1 team, and at 4-1, USC was aiming to keep the run going.

They did - for a half. They weren't just beating Kentucky, they were whipping the Wildcats. Marcus Lattimore couldn't be tackled in a phone booth, with three touchdowns in the first half, and USC could already see a chance to lock down the SEC East with a win over Vanderbilt the next week.

Instead, the Gamecocks came out for the second half and Lattimore was sitting down with an ankle injury. USC's defense suddenly couldn't contain anyone, and when Mike Hartline threw for the last of his 349 yards, the Gamecocks saw the worst sight imaginable - Stephon Gilmore and DeVonte Holloman each looking at each other, saying, "I thought you had him!" as Randall Cobb caught a wide-open game-winning touchdown.

"We were ready to play, but they completely out-played us the second half, out-coached us completely the second half," coach Steve Spurrier said on Tuesday. "We ended up losing the game. But that game's history, just as our game with them last year's history, and the team that plays the best this week has the best chance of being the winner."

USC rebounded to win its only SEC East championship that season, but at the time, it drew memories of the last time USC had gotten into the Top 10. That was in Spurrier's third year, after the No. 7 Gamecocks had beaten North Carolina to rise to No. 6. All USC had to do to lock down a bowl bid was win one more game, and a shot at the SEC championship was very clear.

Vanderbilt beat the Gamecocks the next week and USC didn't win again that season. It remains the only time in Spurrier's first seven years at the helm that USC didn't go to a bowl game.

The topics had to be discussed, but there is so much more going for the Gamecocks this year. Being No. 6 and heading to Kentucky are mere coincidences, but good ones - with the way many members of the current team lost to the Wildcats two years ago, there's a very slim chance that they'll overlook Kentucky this year, whatever the ranking is.

And, USC's won-loss record as a Top-10 team has drastically improved. After being 8-10 as a Top-10 team since midway through the 1984 "Black Magic" season, the Gamecocks have won their last five straight games as a Top-10 team, including the first four of this season.

USC got a taste of great success, winning 20 games over the past two seasons and its first four this year. Historical supposeds are falling by the wayside every week.

What's one (two) more?

"This is a different team," Spurrier said. "Every team's different, every year's different. This is two years ago. We're talking about a game that we had under control. So we're a one-game-at-a-time bunch, we try not to get behind us, get ahead of us, try to get better today, get better tomorrow, try to play the best we can every Saturday and move on."

Other popular content on GamecockCentral.com:
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