One might think that after 20 years of SEC membership, and (somewhat) steady athletic progress, that the University of South Carolina would have earned a little respect; that we would be able to exert just a small amount of influence when it comes to things that impact the success of our sports program. Well Gamecock fans, if the rumors about 2012 football scheduling are true, we aren’t even close on the respect or influence fronts. Very much to the contrary, it’s abundantly clear that we are still the red (garnet?) headed stepchild of the SEC.
The So-Called Facts: Based on unofficial reports, our 2012 schedule will include a game against our still permanent Western Division opponent Arkansas, and a previously scheduled game against LSU. LSU is replacing Auburn on the rotating schedule while Missouri comes on board as a permanent Eastern Division foe (in place of Mississippi State, our other 2011 rotating opponent-who was scheduled to visit Columbia prior to expansion). In contrast to this, UGA, our chief Eastern Division rival at the present, is strongly rumored to be retaining Ole Miss as its rotating Western opponent (the 2011 equivalent of Mississippi State to us-as these schools played in 2011), while its previously scheduled home and home rotation against ALABAMA is being dropped. Meanwhile, UGA retains its games against its permanent Western Division opponent Auburn. In summary, we get ARKANSAS and LSU. Georgia gets auburn and mississippi.
The Screw Job: While our home and home against Mississippi State is cut off in midstream, UGA’s home and home against Ole Miss is preserved. In return, we get LSU and UGA avoids Alabama. Call us TRC guys crazy (and many people do) but we see some home cooking here for the Dogs. Following a year where they somehow skirted Alabama, Arkansas AND LSU (due to pure luck), the schedule appears to be working out so that they miss them ALL again in 2012 (due to something other than luck). Instead of playing perennial power Alabama coached by a guy named Saban, they get the absolute worst team in the entire SEC (with apologies to Kentucky) coached by a guy named Freeze (who, I must admit, had never heard of until they hired him). Now ain’t that as sweet as a Georgia Peach.
This is supposedly all being done so Missouri, the new kid on the block, can secure a marquee opening game against Georgia to kick off their entry into the league. Gee, SEC brass, thanks for taking care of Mizzou. That down home Southern hospitality really makes us feel better.
Well, we don’t buy for one second that this is being done for Missouri. It’s pretty clear to us that this has nothing to do with the Tigers to the north and a lot to do with the fact that we currently have our best team ever – something that evidently does not sit too well with the ruling elite of the SEC (don’t forget that Bama also gets to avoid Georgia, whom we grudgingly admit is back on track) and those folks who run college football nowadays (i.e., ESPN). With Florida and Tennessee “down”, a powerful Georgia is theoretically better for business than an upstart like us. Therefore, the wheels went in motion and we ended up with LSU while Georgia got Ole Miss.
The USC Response: Evidently nothing. Nada. Zip. As one of my TRC cohorts tweeted: “It appears that Eric Hyman took a banana to a knife fight.”
The TRC Response: ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING US? Let’s be honest. Most of us rational fans realize that we are currently in a window of opportunity that may not appear again for quite some time – if ever. Steven Orr Spurrier is our football coach while Dooley, Jr. (still has the training wheels on) and a guy willingly called “Boom” coach UT and Florida, respectively. Now is our chance to supplant Tennessee in the East. Florida will rise again, it’s just a matter of time. With the state of Georgia to recruit, UGA can’t help but be decent every year.
Due to a certain set of unique circumstances South Carolina has the chance to become an upper echelon (top six) SEC program. The only way to accomplish this is by winning, and winning in a such a way that forces others to take notice. Otherwise, the national media folks will continue to give ink to the traditional powers, as that’s what sells to most casual fans.
Without national attention and the perception that we are an upwardly mobile program, the top recruits outside SC will continue to look elsewhere. And at the end of the day, winning football games is about having better players than the other guys. Make no mistake about it, this scheduling business is about the preservation of power and the ultimate delivery of dollars to outstretched hands.
We at TRC were always of the opinion that expansion, no matter how it was sliced, was bad for USC. If this colossal screw job actually takes place, there’s a more than a decent chance that UGA will waltz to Atlanta once again. Even if we beat them. Again.