Anxious Moments: 31 Years of South Carolina Season Openers – Ranked

Stephon Gilmore saves the day against NC State in 2007. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

When our old pal Ben Breiner asks a question of the old guard, we feel compelled to respond.

To hopefully somewhat answer Ben’s question, we decided to take a look at the last 31 years of South Carolina season openers to determine which were the most all-around anxiety inducing, aggregating the amount of anxiety before, during and after the contest. There’s no real formula or research here, just memories combined with results combined with a dash of context.

From least anxiety-inducing to most, here you go:

31. 2021 – Beat Eastern Illinois 46-0

Even though it was Shane Beamer’s first game, everyone knew EIU was greatly overmatched before, during and after the game. Complete cakewalk.

30. 1998 – Beat Ball State 38-20

The beginning of Brad Scott’s last season and his last win as USC head coach. The thrill was gone.

29. 2001 – Beat Boise State 32-13

Before Boise State was Boise State they were just another small school headed to Columbia for a paycheck. Good USC team, relatively easy win.

28. 2002 – Beat New Mexico State 34-24

Probably closer than we would’ve liked, but still a bit of a snoozer for what turned out to be a pretty disappointing Gamecock team.

27. 2018 – Beat Coastal Carolina 48-15

Yawn. No matter how much the Coastal folks like to talk these days they’ll always be a cupcake against the ‘Cocks.

26. 1996 – Beat UCF 33-14

Before UCF was UCF, they were just another small school headed to Columbia for a paycheck. But they did have a young quarterback named Daunte Culpepper who we would see again one year later.

25. 2005 – Beat UCF 24-15

Some of you may be surprised to see this game so low given it was Steve Spurrier’s first game at the helm and it was a fourth quarter game. But UCF was in the midst of a 16-game losing streak and GADZOOKS STEVE SPURRIER WAS OUR HEAD COACH.

24. 2007 – Beat Louisiana 28-14

Thought to be a season opening cupcake against the Fightin’ Spurriers, this game was much too close for comfort.

23. 1999 – Lost to NC State 10-0

Lou Holtz’s first game as head coach, game was literally played in a tropical storm. Not much reason for anxiety, but we also didn’t know we were about to go 0-11.

22. 2000 – Beat New Mexico State 31-0

There was the pressure of a 21-game losing streak of course, but NMSU was a bad team and just the medicine Holtz and Co. needed. The goal posts came down that day, and then came down again a week later when the Gamecocks upset ninth-ranked Georgia.

21. 2003 – Beat Louisiana 14-7

Way, WAYYYYY too close for comfort. There were hints at this point that maybe Lou Holtz was starting to mail it in.

20. 1997 – Beat UCF 33-31

Turns out that Culpepper kid was pretty good. UCF led heading in to the fourth quarter, but USC scored twice and then held on for the win.

19. 2004 – Beat Vanderbilt 31-6

Very much anxiety inducing before the game started. The Gamecocks came out in fresh black helmets (for the only season under Holtz), the late Jamacia Jackson had a long interception return for touchdown, and the Gamecocks cruised late.

18. 2006 – Beat Mississippi State 15-0

Starting the season with a road SEC game is never an easy task. But the USC defense was stout and Cory Boyd was “back like cooked crack”.

17. 2015 – Beat UNC 17-13

In retrospect it really didn’t matter that we won this game. The season was disastrous, but the win felt big at the time.

16. 2008 – Beat NC State 34-0

This was the proverbial “game was closer than the score indicates”. South Carolina sent Russell Wilson off on a stretcher (he turned out to be just fine) and piled on points late for the win.

15. 2013 – Beat UNC 27-10

Big expectations could only be met with a fast start, and USC needed a win to get things off on the right foot. They rode a 75-yard touchdown run by Mike Davis for a hard-fought win.

14. 2010 – Beat Southern Miss 41-13

It was a put up or shut up year for Steve Spurrier, and it started with a tough Southern Miss team with a cocky head coach named Larry Fedora. The Gamecocks would pull away and ultimately win their first SEC East title.

13. 2017 – Beat NC State 35-28

This was easily Will Muschamp’s best team. Deebo returned the opening kickoff of the season for a TD, caught two TD passes, and the Gamecocks batted down a pass in the end zone late late to seal it.

12. 2012 – Beat Vanderbilt 17-13

Ugh, talk about anxiety inducing. A really close game for what turned out to arguably be South Carolina’s best team ever.

11. 2009 – Beat NC State 7-3

Just a horrible, horrible football game that ended with a pass batted down by freshman Stephon Gilmore in the end zone. It was a must win with a trip to Georgia the following week, a game which the Gamecocks lost 41-37.

10. (4-way tie) 1992 – Lost to Georgia 28-6; 1993 – Beat Georgia 23-21; 1994 – Lost to Georgia 24-21; 1995 – Lost to Georgia 42-23

That’s right, we started the season against Georgia four seasons in a row. That, my friends, is anxiety inducing on so many levels.

6. 2016 – Beat Vanderbilt 13-10

Will Muschamp’s first game, and you just can’t lose to Vandy in your first game. Elliott Fry drilled a long field goal for the winner in what was a nail-biting 60 minutes. (Muschamp also punted in plus territory about 15 times, tipping his hand for the rest of his tenure.)

5. 2020 – Lost to Tennessee 31-27

Tough way to start Muschamp’s final season (an SEC-only schedule in the middle of the pandemic) as South Carolina had a chance to win but a Tennessee punt hit Cam Smith, and the Volunteers killed the last minute and a half for the win.

4. 2022 – Beat Georgia State 35-14

Maybe some recency bias on my part. The optimism of the offseason, a team that beat Tennessee two years ago and almost beat Auburn last year, USC being behind early in the second half…it all made for a relatively stressful second-year opener for Shane Beamer.

3. 2019 – Lost to UNC 24-20

Everyone in Gamecock Nation was feeling the pressure in this one. Will Muschamp needed a big season, and a win in Charlotte over UNC would be a great way to start. But the Gamecocks imploded in the fourth quarter, getting outscored 15-0 en route to a crushing loss.

2. 2011 – Beat East Carolina 56-37

USC was coming off their first ever SEC East title, and Connor Shaw had won the starting QB job over Stephen Garcia. ECU ambushed the Gamecocks, leading 17-0 early and 28-14 at the half. USC exploded in the third quarter to take control, but I mean to tell you, that first half was about as anxiety-inducing as it gets for me.

1. 2014 – Lost to Texas A&M 52-28

I honestly don’t know if I’ve ever been so excited for a season opener. We had lost a lot of personnel from the teams that had won 11 games in three straight seasons, but I believed in Steve Spurrier and believed the good times would continue to roll. Instead, an unheralded Texas A&M squad, with something called Kenny Hill at quarterback, thottled the Gamecocks from start to finish. This was the day the clock started ticking on the Spurrier era.

These are the opinions of Buck and Buck alone. Agree? Disagree? Let us know what you think.

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