Ask any random Gamecock fan and they will probably tell you that the rivalry game against the Clemson Tiger University is the most important game of the year. Ask that same fan to name the game that is the best predictor of Carolina’s hopes, and they will invariably point towards Athens, Georgia.
In fact, conventional wisdom holds that the South Carolina–Georgia game is a good barometer of the season for both teams. This feeling is reinforced by the early date of the contest, which does tend to set expectations for both fan bases.
But the fact is that the SC–UGA game is a very poor predictor of the Gamecock’s yearly fortunes. Since joining the SEC, South Carolina has lost five different times to Georgia and gone on to have a winning record. Also, South Carolina failed to have a winning record in two years where they beat the Bulldogs (’93 and ’07). In other words, in almost half of the meetings between the two teams, South Carolina’s outcome against Georgia does not serve as a predictor of the season’s total result.
Surprisingly, the outcome of the SC-Arkansas matchup bears a much stronger correlation to the Gamecock’s annual record. Since the two schools joined the league, only one SC team (’97) has defeated the Razorbacks and gone on to have a losing record. On only three occasions have the Gamecocks lost to Arkansas and gone on to have a winning season. In the remaining fourteen contests, the result of the SC-Ark ballgame has accurately predicted the Gamecock’s annual record.
Given this strong correlation, why doesn’t the average Gamecock fan identify the Razorbacks as a more important opponent? This question came to my mind only after reading an interesting post on the excellent Team Speed Kills blog (which, as a fan of the SEC, you should already be reading).
The two schools play every year as permanent interdivision foes, but for a variety of reasons a heated rivalry has failed to develop. First, the two schools are almost 1000 mile apart, and the annual contest is usually the farthest the visiting team travels to play a game each year. Probably as a result of this distance, the two fan bases don’t interact that often (although one super Razorback fan does host me and Buck at the Chic-fil-a Kickoff each year) and the schools do not usually recruit against each other. At present, neither roster contains a player from the other’s home state.
The series stands at 7 wins for SC, 11 for Arkansas. Since 2004 the record is knotted at 3 wins each. The individual contests, however, are usually not that memorable. The average margin of victory in the SC-Ark game is 16 points. In only three meetings has the margin of victory been a field goal or less. Put another way, the loser of the Gamecock–Razorback struggle usually gets blown out.
I’m sure the coaching staff places as much emphasis on the Arkansas game as on any conference foe. But in my opinion, the Gamecock fan base needs to move the Razorbacks up in importance.
Oh, and since I’ve got my media guide out – do you know how many times the Gamecocks have beat the Dawgs and the Pigs in the same season? Only twice (’96 and 2000).
And in both of those years we went on to have winning records.