On Saturday the Texas A&M Aggies return to Columbia and Williams-Brice Stadium for the first time since August 28, 2014. As a South Carolina fan two years ago, everything leading up to that game and that day felt big time. And it felt big time not because of the opponent, but because of who we were.
The Gamecocks were coming off of a third straight 11-win season, a number 4 final national ranking the previous season, and a top 10 ranking at the beginning of 2014. We had five straight wins over our hated rival, who weren’t too shabby themselves. We had a coach who was the toast of college football, a man who had taken a moribund program and turned them into an SEC powerhouse. There was even a Steve Spurrier documentary the night before on the newly launched SEC Network, a groundbreaking new venture for the conference and for ESPN.
The game against the Aggies was the first ever on the new network, and it was a showcase for the University of South Carolina football program. We had a fresh new park adjacent to the stadium, new brick pathways, and an 80-foot idol hanging from the walls of Williams-Brice stadium honoring the man who had made us great.
August 28, 2014 was to be a coronation for South Carolina football, the new kid on the block who planned to be there for many years to come. We were a force to be reckoned with, and we had an 18-game home winning streak to prove it.
Then the game started.
It wasn’t the first drive that was so disturbing. While you’d rather not give up a 9-play touchdown drive to start a game, it wasn’t something to be terribly alarmed about. But when it kept happening, and happening, and happening again…
We were down 31-14 at the half on the way to a 52-28 beat down. The numbers for TAMU were staggering – 680 total yards of offense, 511 passing by some guy named Kenny Hill. They carved us up like they were playing against air.
When the clock hit all zeroes that night, it wasn’t just the end of a bad loss for USC, it was the end of something much larger. It was the end of our relevance on the college football scene. We didn’t realize it at the time, but our program had been rotting from the inside for months. Poor recruiting, poor coaching and coaching hires, and a general laziness around the football office left us the ashes we’re still sweeping up today.
Will we be relevant again? Someday, sure, I think we will. But we have a long way to go, and having the Texas A&M Aggies roll into town this weekend just reminds me of how fast and how far we’ve fallen. I think we can probably expect a similar result this weekend as we had two years ago.
Funny, though, I look at that final score and think, damn, what I wouldn’t give to score 28 points.