This football season? It’s the worst. The absolute worst.
When I say that, I know what’s coming. I know what some of you are thinking – “Yeah, but…”
You’re going to remind me of 1998-1999, aren’t you? You’re going to remind me of 1-21.
“The WORST, man. It’s never going to get worse than that. How can it, we won ONE game in TWO years!”
I hear ya. And I respect your opinion. But I’m telling you the 3-9 we’re going to finish with this season is worse. By a fairly wide margin.
At the beginning of the 1998 season we had one bowl victory in our history against eight losses. The bowl victory was in the gloriously-named Carquest Bowl, and lifted us to a 7-5 final record. The greatest season in school history was a strange blip in 1984, and we still managed to lose to Navy and blow our bowl game against Oklahoma State. Gaining bowl eligibility was a stretch goal for us most years.
There were brief moments of hope early in the Brad Scott era, but in retrospect something along the lines of 1-10 shouldn’t have been hard to see coming. Scott used talent recruited by Sparky Woods (never thought you’d ever read that did you) and parlayed it into the bowl win and a couple of very average seasons. But at the end of 1997 the signs were there – we were in trouble.
The year 1998 was hard, but we were an SEC program that was a half-step better than Vanderbilt and that was about it. Was it so unreasonable for us to believe we could go 1-10? The next year brought Lou Holtz and lot of excitement and anticipation, but by mid-season we knew a winless slate was possible. After all, Holtz was left with the burned out shell of a ’72 Nova by Scott.
Another factor that can’t be overlooked is there was no social media in 98-99. The failures of the Gamecocks weren’t necessarily in your face every day like they are today.
My personal recollection of those two years is numbness. There were no expectations, so there was no real disappointment. It was embarrassing for sure, but not shocking.
Fast-forward to the first game of 2014. We were coming off our third consecutive 11-2 season and a program-best 4th-place finish in the polls. And the year before that run we had won our first and only SEC East title. We had turned the corner. We were a top team in the best conference in college football, with fantastic resources, a hall of fame coach and very good recruiting classes lining up. There was no going back to the program we once were.
Or so we thought.
The Texas A&M game was merely a precursor to what has been a spectacular fall from the top of the SEC. We were competitive last year, but blew fourth-quarter leads and limped to a 7-6 finish.
Steve Spurrier seemed to be rejuvenated heading into this season. He had a new defensive coordinator and a spring back in his step. He assured everyone this team was going to be different and we were going to bounce back.
The second week of the season we lost to Kentucky and the spring was gone. That’s when I first knew it was over for Spurrier. Then we got drilled by Georgia, and the rest of the fan base started to catch up. He wasn’t turning this thing around.
Spurrier then resigned, or quit, or whatever you want to call it. You can be mad about the way he left us, but I’m more mad about what he did to us before he left us. He didn’t think he had to work hard any more, especially on the recruiting trail, and it killed us. We noticed the lack of talent early last year, and then he made the infamous “two year” comment and recruits ran from us.
Shawn Elliott has tried, but we’ve still suffered through difficult losses in games where a play or two could’ve made a difference. Each loss was more painful than the last, until yesterday. Losing to the Citadel is unacceptable even under the worst of circumstances.
To cap if off, in 1998-99 we had to deal with decent Clemson teams, but they were not national contenders like they are today. Going through a miserable season like we are right now while watching our hated rivals have their best season in 35 years is the ultimate salt in the wound.
To think about where we were less than two years ago and to see where we are today is the biggest gut punch in Gamecock sports history. You can invoke 1998-99, but to me it isn’t close. This is much, much worse.