Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Garnet & Black Colored Lenses

The Senator points out this college football preview for the South Carolina Gamecocks.

Not to be confused with the "poetry of pre-mature trash talk", a different category of fan pathology in the best of cases, the tradition of Carolina fans to offer boastful hyperbole during the pre-season is legendary within the SEC. It really is something to look forward to by many other SEC fanbases.

Though as a Georgia fan, I've enjoyed it much less since I took my own bit of undergraduate fan swagger into Williams-Brice Stadium one fall afternoon in 2000, when the Gamecocks officially served notice that they would no longer put up with being an assumed Bulldawg win.

Georgia has still taken the supermajority of wins in the series since that afternoon when Quincy Carter interceptions fell like pinata candies into the unbelieving arms of the Garnet-clad secondary, but Carolina has done a tremendous job in closing the gap in the rivalry in terms of games won outright and close losses. Without Branden Smith's 61 yard TD run in 2009 and the mind-boggling David Pollack Interception/TD in 2002, the UGA - USCe rivalry could easily stand at 5 and 6 since 2000.

Of course, there are those who will correctly note that's why we play the games, or moral victories don't count, or the final score is all that matters; Carolina will always be Carolina, they will say.

Maybe. But membership in the SEC has its privileges. That TV money makes a difference in athletic facilities, coaching hires, and desirablility due to national exposure. South Carolina may not be the most fertile recruiting ground, but the state produces a crop of elite players every year. Sharing borders with Georgia and North Carolina give them an in, and close proximity to Florida (not to mention a coach with a pedigree from that state) put the program in better shape than most others in the country.

This is allowing them to close the talent gap, if not yet the depth gap. In the past, those gaps would combine to destroy Carolina's momentum later in the season as attrition and the talent plateau would take its toll against Florida, Tennessee and Clemson.

But the 2011 Gamecocks are not going to have the same talent plateau - they proved last year that they can play with elite teams for 4 quarters, if they maintain their concentration (another maddening achilles heel for Carolina fans over the years). For almost a decade, this team has deployed a scrappy defense playing above their level, and that D has often kept them in games against incredibly good teams. If they remain healthy, both Ashlon Jeffrey and Marcus Lattimore have the talent to play on Sundays*. If Stephen Garcia figures out how not to lose games, they may finally have an offense that can give the defense leads to protect.

And they'll all be playing with a dangerous psychological combination not often seen in Columbia: while the Carolina chip on the shoulder will be there still, you now inject into the mix the knowledge that this team was able to play and win against the elite. They've beat Alabama, Georgia, Florida, and Tennessee in recent years, and those SEC opponents may not be able to count on their own programs' winning tradition to get in Gamecock players' heads.

This year, the preseason talk may not be the traditional hyperbole for Carolina. The game in Athens this year is going to be the biggest and most important this rivalry has seen in a while.

(*- Spencer Hall at EDSBS once referred to Georgia players and NFL 1st round draft picks Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno as "uncontainability twinned," and the same could be said for Jeffrey and Lattimore.)


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