Monthly Archives: May 2011

Baseball Tournament Memories


As our Gamecocks sit atop the SEC and the National Rankings, let’s prepare ourselves for the 2011 NCAA tournament by remembering 2010…

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While We’re DIscussing Culture Change…


…don’t miss David Cloninger’s commentary at Gamecock Central on Coach Ray Tanner’s 2011 SEC Champion South Carolina Gamecocks.  Cloninger is easily the best writer covering Gamecock sports in the state of South Carolina, and it’s a free article so read the whole thing.

Greetings, Welcome, and a Comment on “the Culture”


First of all, I owe a debt of thanks to our generous bloghost, Gullinkambi, for establishing Thoughtful Gamecock. He is a great friend of long standing and when he mentioned that he was setting up a blog devoted to Gamecock sports commentary, I was thrilled at the possibility of committing some of our ideas to semi-permanent form.  I have always wished that we could find some way to share our frequent chats with the wider world, and now that he’s kindly provided us with such a forum, I encourage everyone who might be reading–Gamecock fan or no–to join in the discussion in the comments box.

I thought it might be useful, for purposes of introduction, to add a few thoughts to the excellent discussion below labeled Elevation.  One of our defining characteristics as Gamecock fans is our Eeyore temperament, our constant rehearsal of “a hundred years of frustration” or “decades of mediocrity,” or what have you. (For the record, and as evidence that I’m living proof of the phenomenon, I consider the word “mediocrity” an over-generous euphemism for “awfulness.”)  It’s something that ESPN analysts have been known to comment on after leaving our stadium–that palpable sense that something bad is about to happen, and in fact for some years it seemed that our players were more comfortable in a hostile SEC stadium than in pressure-packed Williams-Brice, a kind of Titanic on land in which everyone saw, or thought he saw, the outline of a glacier just ahead.  And let’s face it, given our history, and given that USC fans have long labored under the delusion that the football program had all the resources it could ever need (a consequence of both ordinary stupidity and the years spent as an independent, which sheltered both the fans and several administrations from the competitive pressures of conference membership), who could blame us?  The Chicken Curse was by far the most rational explanation for what Reece Davis has memorably described as the “mind-boggling faceplants” that have long been the trademark of Gamecock athletics, or at least it was if you didn’t want to admit that South Carolina had the worst-run athletics department of any flagship university in the entire country.

Since Lou Holtz first came into contact with this general environment of institutionalized failure, “changing the culture” at South Carolina has been the phrase of choice to describe what exactly it was the mission of our coaches and athletics directors to accomplish.  It’s been used to mean different things to different people, of course, but we can probably encompass all those meanings by describing it not only as failure but the expectation of failure–in short, failing to act like winners, whether we’re talking about a player who inexplicably cracks under the pressure and drops a game-tying 4th-quarter touchdown, or the casual fan who literally takes offense when his coach tells him it’s probably best that he wear garnet rather than a lime green polo to the upcoming contest with Georgia.  Changing the culture has meant not only ditching the locker room lawyers and getting the players to show up for mandatory-voluntary summer workouts, but also having Steve Spurrier implement a thoroughly embarrassing campaign called, usefully, Garnet on Gameday–embarrassing not because it was unnecessary but because it was.  This man knows the SEC, and it has been evident to him from day one of his tenure that the people who call themselves Gamecocks–from boosters to fans to the players on the field–really have had zero appreciation for what is required to compete at a reasonably high level in the toughest of all football conferences outside the AFC and the NFC.

Spurrier's Post-Game Alma-Mater Idea Has Become a Cross-Sport Tradition.

So how different have things become?  Well, it’s hard to quantify but let’s illustrate it this way:  Gullinkambi jokes that his wife hasn’t yet “paid her dues,” and I know just what he means, but it’s not a trivial point.  My fiancee has remarked often that she just can’t understand how USC fans can be so negative, how they can complain so incessantly when things just aren’t that bad.  And leaving aside the fact that she is blessed with a very positive disposition of her nature, it can’t be denied that as an objective measure, she’s right.  We haven’t had that much to complain about the last few years and really, when compared to the long sweep of our history it is hard to argue we deserve a lot more than we’re getting out of the “Spurrier era.”  Still, this misses something important.  Her first year of Gamecock fandom was, you guessed it, 2005.  That was Spurrier’s first year, and we were within one silly penalty in Athens of winning the SEC East that season.  For her first live game experience, she bought us tickets for the Tennessee game, our first-ever victory in Neyland Stadium and one of the most emotionally uplifting days in the history of Gamecock football.  In the ensuing years she has seen South Carolina embark on its best six-year stretch both from the standpoint of wins and losses in general, and from the standpoint of quality wins over key rivals like Georgia and Clemson in particular.  She’s never been forced to watch a losing season, she’s enjoyed the exploits of all-time greats like Alshon Jeffery and Eric Norwood, and she’s seen the record books opened and re-written every year.  That’s to say nothing of the school’s first National Championship in a major sport, breezy night games with Clemson at the gorgeous Carolina Stadium, and all the rest of it.  How can this not color a person’s perception of what it means to be a Gamecock?

Winning.

It isn’t as though the fans haven’t done their part, sort of.  But they’ve been dragged kicking and screaming into a culture of winning by coaches and a much-maligned AD who actually knows what it is to build one.  Given everything that’s happened down through the ages, it’s certainly forgivable, at least for those of us who sat through Navy ’84, the 2002 College World Series Final, Coppin State, 63-17, the Pushoff, and Carolina Girls.  But it’s also time to recognize that things have changed, perhaps for good.

Marcus Lattimore Stirs the Soul


I don’t have words that can add anything to this breathtaking Marcus Lattimore highlight vid.  Try to not get excited about the Gamecock future.  I dare you.

Elevation


Sometimes it’s worth looking at where you’ve come from to appreciate where it is you’re going.  For fans of The University of South Carolina, the years may have been fun at times, but certainly not kind.  The modern era of Gamecock football (for purposes of this article, 1969-present) has been characterized by long periods of mediocrity puctuated by all-to-brief moments of excellence and glaring instances of soul-crushing agony.

1969 was a year in which the future of Gamecock football looked bright.  We had the ACC coach of the year in Paul Dietzel.  We had the Conference championship.  We had beaten the hated Clemson Tigers.  To some, the ACC was beginning to look like an anchor holding USC athletics down, rather than a springboard to greatness, and so the decision to leave the Atlantic Coast Conference was made, and the ramifications of that decision would be felt to this very day.

Life after the ACC looked good.  A measure of national prominence was attained by coach Jim Carlen, peaking in the 1980 season, in which beloved running back George Rogers won the Heisman Trophy.  The Gamecocks enjoyed an eight win season that year, the highlights of which were wins over Bo Schembechler’s #3 ranked Michigan Wolverines in Ann Arbor.  The zenith of Carolina football came in 1984, when coach Joe Morrison led the Gamecocks to a still-best-ever ten win season.

These are moments that the Carolina fan base will remember fondly forever, but remembering these moments requires us to forget much, much more.  from 1969-1984 Carolina won zero bowl games.  In that same time, our record against Clemson was 5-10.   Overall record:  96-83-2.   A winning record, but hardly stellar, and certainly not up to the expectations of fans who had believed the program was headed to national recognition.

The bottom really fell out from 1985-1999.  Playing as an independant was catching up to the Gamecocks, and the coaching hires of Sparky Woods and Brad Scott during this time was doing little to keep us competitive.  The lone bright spot was a win in the Carquest Bowl, the first ever (!) bowl win for the Gamecocks.  Overall record during these years:  72-88-6, including a pitiful  4-10-1 against Clemson.  The dream of national championship caliber Carolina football seemed dead.   Suprisingly, the goundwork for future success had been laid in the waning years of this era, even if the fans weren’t seeing the payoff yet.

The Gamecocks entered the Southeastern Conference in 1992.  Playing in the SEC would turn out to be absolutely critical to the re-emergence of the USC football program, but there was a price to be paid: yearly shellackings at the hands of Florida, Tennessee and Georgia, plus assorted other thumpings from well-established SEC teams like Alabama and Auburn.  A hire was made that seemd to be in step with USC’s commitment to success:  Lou Holtz.  Perhaps the phoenix (er, Gamecock) could rise from the ashes after all.

Holtz led the Gamecocks to the oft-mentioned Outback Bowl wins of 2000-2001, universally recognized by Gamecock fans as the highest peak of Carolina Football since the ’84 season, and the winningest two year stretch of Gamecock football EVER.  These impressive feats lose a bit of luster when one remembers that Holtz finished a USC with an overall losing record (33-37), a losing record against Clemson (1-5) and losing records against SEC East rivals Florida (0-6), Tennessee (0-6) and Georgia (2-3).  It should also be mentioned here that the price for Holtz’ 2000-2001 seasons was staggeringly high.  NCAA rules violations resulted in disciplinary action against the university, and we were subjected to perhaps the ugliest moment in Gamecock history:  The 2004 brawl in Clemson that cost us a bowl game (self-imposed penalty) and any national respect we had accrued.

This was the scenario facing Steve Spurrier when he took the reigns as head coach in 2005.  More than a century of Gamecock football had yielded three bowl wins, one Heisman trophy, one championship season and little else.  Things were getting ready to change.

It’s hard to overstate Spurrier’s impact on Carolina football.  Since his arrival, the Gamecocks have seen sweeping, game-changing improvements in their program, ranging from facilities to basic contractual obligations.  Consider this:  since Spurrier arrived, the parking lot at Williams-Brice Stadium is no longer a dustbowl of shame, athletes study in a multi-million dollar academic enrichment center, our radio contract allows us to reach three times as many listeners as the previous one, we have an apparell contract with Under Armor that actually PAYS US rather than vice-versa and  have been featured on television more than all the previous years combined.  These basic improvements, made thanks to the efforts of Spurrier and Athletics Director Eric Hyman (and with a wink and a nod to our SEC membership) have attracted recruits the likes of which our bedraggled little program has never seen.  Alshon Jefferey.  Sidney Rice.  Stephon Gilmore.  Marcus Lattimore.  Jadeveon Clowney.  These are players around which championship teams are built, and we are getting closer to that promised land.  Prior to Spurrier, our program had a two wins over top five teams, and none over top-ranked teams.  Spurrier matched those two wins by beating a #4 and a #1 in the following year.  We compete with our SEC rivals, no longer a doormat for teams of the east.  We own multiple wins over Florida, Tennessee and Georgia.  We went to the SEC Championship game, gateway to the National Championship for five years running.  More good news:  we arent losing to Clemson anymore, having reached a 3-3 mark against the Tigers with consecutive dominant wins.  We have been bowl-eligible every single year of Spurrier’s tenure.  We have no losing records in that time.

If all of this isn’t enough to get you to admit that the Gamecocks have arrived, then I remind you:  2011 is projected by EVERYONE in the nation to be our Best.  Year.  Yet.

There is truly no part of Gamecock football that has not been made better during Spurrier’s tenure.  You are watching the best teams we’ve ever fielded, who are winning against the toughest competition we’ve ever faced.  You are watching players regarded as the nation’s best by the National Media, that have the best coaches and are playing in the best facilities.  There’s never been another time like this at Carolina, it is a time of joy for the Gamecock fan, it is a time of excellence for the team.  It is our time of elevation.

ESPN Talks Gamecock Football


The ESPN College Football Live crew discussed Gamecock Football today.  Follow the link to see what Kirk Herbstreet, Craig James, Jesse Palmer and Urban Meyer had to say, then give us your reaction in the comment section.  We look forward to hearing from you!  LINK

The Deification and Demonization of Stephen Garcia


Stephen Garcia.  Touted High School recruit.  Trouble-prone college football player.  Embattled Steve Spurrier quarterback.  This has been the story of His Brah-ness as long as the Florida native has been on the USC campus, but these tags paint a picture that was then as it is now:  incomplete and unfair.  We are all familiar with the first chapter;  Garcia chooses to play football at USC, becoming an instant star in a star-heavy recruiting class.  Gamecock fans rejoice that Spurrier now has the talent he needs, across the field and particularly at the QB position, to challenge for an SEC title.  Garcia elects to enroll early, get aquainted with the university and the football team, and get ahead of the curve on his path to what could only be greatness.  Carolina’s future had never looked brighter, and Garcia seemed poised to deliver.  Then things started to happen.

Garcia began a pattern of behavior that landed him in trouble over and again, sometimes involving pettiness and a bad attitude,  usually involving beer.  His early arrival on campus, time that was meant to accelerate his development, was wasted.  Suspension after suspension prohibited practice time, and Garcia seemed to be on a one-man mission to prove that idle hands were indeed the devil’s workshop.  This second chapter of Garcia’s story reads in part like a Lindsay Lohan tabliod story, run-ins with the local police, vandalism and some crazy incident involving a fire extinguisher, all soaked in booze and enacted with a seeming sense of entitlement usually seen only in Hollywood starlets.  A single look at Garcia’s mugshot, shown above, told you all you needed to know about how badly he felt about his behavior.

Still, Gamecock fans were no strangers to the idea of the wild, untamed quarterback.  Steve Tanneyhill had imprinted himself on our psyche years before, and we aren’t a fan base that will begrudge a winning QB a drink or two, especially if it’s in celebration of victory.  But the victories weren’t rolling in as quickly as we hoped.  In fact, Garcia was showing a propensity to maddening inconistent play, play that was certainly not up to the Demigod status bequeathed upon him by Gamecock fans on signing day.  The love/hate dynamic that Carolina fans have today with Garcia was developing, and it was quickly tilting away from love.

And wouldn’t you know, right at the moment the Gamecock faithful decided they’d had about enough of Stephen Garcia, at the moment it seemed that any upside to his time at USC would never be worth the emarrassment to the university, or worth the games that were lost in whole or in part because of his lack of development and commitment;  THAT was the moment that Garcia began to produce.  That was the moment that we began to realize that he was producing all along.

Garcia is a big kid, and has developed a reputation as a muscular runner, and here’s some tape to prove it:

Any Gamecock can remember big runs by Garcia against Arkansas, Alabama, Southern Miss, Florida and Georgia.  His legs and size are enough to make him a rushing threat, if not quite of the caliber of a Tim Tebow, then certainly at least in the same category.  I’ll bet Will Hill would agree with me.  Twelve career rushing touchdowns didn’t happen by themselves.

Garcia’s passing stats have been gaudy.  6,753 career passing yards.  43 touchdowns.  A guaranteed spot in the top three all-time USC quarterbacks.  This alone should have earned him the undying love of the USC faithful, but he’s augmented his prestige with a 2010 QB rating of 148.7, among the highest of any returning SEC quarterback.  That’s right, folks, we have one of the best QBs in the SEC.  He’s won against every team in the SEC East, led us to our only victory over a #1 ranked team (and a #4 team to boot), and has never lost to Clemson, but still we wonder if the kid has what it takes.  Why?

Certainly, Garcia’s play in the last season, though outstanding, was far from perfect.  The aforementioned muscular rushing he provides comes with streaks of fumblitis, most memorably against Auburn, costing the Gamecocks a game that would change the landscape of 2010’s college football season.  No matter how many coaches talk to him, he still won’t stop putting his head down to run.  No matter how many sacks he takes, he still cant seem to grasp the concept of throwing the ball away.  His passing accuracy remains suspect, and he still forces the ball on occasion, leading to unnessecary interceptions.  Still, these are qualities that are embraced and loved by fans of, say, Brett Favre, who see them as idiosyncratic consequences of a hard-charging playmaker.  Garcia doesn’t draw the same kind of love from his fanbase.  Why?

I suspect the answer lies with the initial expectations placed on his head.  Gamecock fans, it must be remembered, crave victory.  They yearn, THIRST for it, the way that only fans who have lived for so long without it can.  When the starving man in the desert sees an oasis in the disance, he imagines a pool of relief that is both cool, deep and wide, and curses his cruel gods when he finds just a stony well that will only yield water after time and toil.  Such is the thirst that Garcia efforts must slake, and small sips won’t get the job done.

One season remains, and the final chapter of Stephen Garcia’s oddyssey is not yet written.  His play this year will be supported by a stout running game (led by Marcus Lattimore) and incredible recieving corps (led by Alshon Jefferey) and a defense with enough playmakers (Gilmore, Taylor, Ingram, Robertson, Paulk) to get the job done.  I suspect 2011 will be remembered as one of USC’s best.  I suspect it will be Garcia’s best.  I suspect that ten years after he has gone, Carolina fans will remember his time at Carolina fondly, and long for the return of a Quarterback just like him.

The Georgia Myth


Every year at this time, the media renews it’s love affair with the Georgia Bulldogs.   They will be universally chosen to compete for the SEC East title, no matter how much talent they’ve lost, how difficult their schedule is or how many unfilled positions of need riddle their team.  This year is no different.  Sadly, many Gamecock fans will begin their annual wringing of hands over how tough a game this will be, and how our entire season hangs on Carolina winning this game.  Let’s take a quick look at Georgia, and see how much we should worry.

No one can deny that Aaron Murray is the real deal at QB.  He showed last year that he is capable of playing at this level, and should show the normal growth and improvement you would expect from a player of his caliber.  Before you start to wince at the thought of Murray carving up our secondary like a Thanksgiving turkey, consider that Georgia has lost their leading reciever in A.J. Green, leaving Tavarres King as the go-to guy in the recieving corps.  Behind him are Marlon Brown and Rantavious Wooten, both of whom are described as inconsistent.  King, in three years, has 47 receptions for 947 yards and 4 touchdowns, hardly stats to fear.  So who will Murray throw to?  Time will tell, and certainly Georgia fans will be looking for SOMEONE to step up and make an impact, but the passing game can only be viewed as a question mark.

Throw it to me, DAWG!

Perhaps even more concerning than Georgia’s situation at reciever is their running back situation.  Gone are both Caleb King (academic issues) and Washaun Ealy (Disciplinary issues) and all Bulldog hopes fall on the shoulders of redshirt freshman Isaiah Crowell.  It’s hard to imagine any division one team losing their top two running backs and expecting IMPROVEMENT in their running game, but such is the mindset of the Georgia fan.  Ealey and King combined for 1,241 yards rushing last year, and to take as a matter of faith that a freshman will not only make up that loss of production, but improve upon it is unspeakably silly.  This silliness is part of what I will call “The Lattimore Effect”, and I’ll discuss it more later.

*sob* Crowell ain't the next Hershell Walker, after all

 Bear in mind, as you consider the formidability of Georgia’s offense, that the offensive line lost three starters, including Trinton Sturdivant, leaving what can best be described as a patchwork unit.  Offensively, you can expect the Bulldogs to struggle, despite anything you’ve heard to the contrary.  No team in football at any level can lose it’s top reciever, two top running backs and best offensive lineman and NOT feel it.  Just saying. UPDATE:  OT StarterAJ Harmon (6’5″ 345lbs.)  now also appears to be an academic casualty.

Defensively, the Bulldogs will be thinking about one thing and one thing only in this years’ grudge match against the Gamecocks:

Marcus Lattimore has dominated the thoughts of every Georgia fan since he trucked their over-hyped and supposedly newly improved defense for 182 yards last year.  Georgia fans have had problems processing the idea that lowly South Carolina had a better running game than they did, much less one led by a true freshman.  To cope with these alien thoughts, Georgia’s fanbase has cast Crowell, a talented kid, as the new Marcus Lattimore.  Don’t bet on it.   For starters,  Lattimore was rated the #2 RB nationally (an asessment he soon exceeded) in the same class in which Crowell was rated #6.  That Lattimore had the impact he did last year was a suprise to EVERYBODY, the exception that proved the rule that freshman RB’s just aren’t able to dominate at the highest levels of college football.  To expect Crowell to do the same thing would be stretching the laws of probability to their breaking point.  This is the Lattimore effect.  Hey, maybe he CAN play that well, but you shouldn’t bet the farm on it.  That Georgia fans are doing just that tells us about their desperation to find a ray of hope for an offense that has a lot of problems.

Anyway, their linebacking corps is being touted as a strength of the defense, despite the loss of Justin Houston (56 tackles, 10 sacks).  Jarvis Jones and Alec  Ogletree are the main sources of hope for the unit, and it should be noted that Ogletree is a converted safety.  This is hardly an ideal situation for the Bulldogs.  A quick glance over their depthchart shows an immense amount of talent on the defensive line, but little depth.  Again, not ideal.

This should be enough information to get our conversational ball rolling, but I do want to make one thing absolutely clear before I wrap up:  Gamecock fans should not fear Georgia in the coming season, Georgia fans should fear the Gamecocks.  Expect tears from Bulldog Nation following our game, as the reality of their situation settles in, and their over-hyped dreams waft away again.

The Bulldogs are average again! Waaaah!

Welcome to Thoughtful Gamecock


Well, here we are deep in the doldrums of the College Football offseason, and though we are still months away from kickoff, there’s still a ton to talk about.  Our Gamecocks are looking like the favorites to repeat as SEC East champs, perennial rivals Clemson, Georgia, Tennessee and Florida are all having issues ranging from program stability to talent loss, and it looks like the NCAA is making noise about putting some teeth into their rules enforcement.

Here at Thoughtful Gamecock, we look forward to discussing these and other topics of interest to the University of South Carolina Athletics fan.  We are not an “insider” site, we gather our information from the same sources as any other fans.  We are not a news site, and not bound by journalistic standards, freeing us to openly discuss rumor and speculation.  What we are is a group of fans who love SEC football and the Gamecocks, who were disappointed at the lack of…well, thoughtfulness on the existing message boards that dealt with our beloved Gamecocks. 

 While the blatant homerism that can be found on other sites can perhaps be forgiven, the lack of fan commentary rooted in logic can not.  We intend the discussion on this site to be driven by a logical thought process, rather the emotional response to events that we have seen elsewhere.  All are invited to participate, as long as this single, simple rule is understood.  We are interested in your head, not your heart.  We assume all hearts here long for the success of our Gamecocks.

So, get yourself registered, and start commenting!  Let us know what you want to discuss, share articles of interest, let’s get this ball rolling!   Be sure to friend Thoughtful Gamecock on Facebook, where will also be taking suggestions and updating often!  We look forward to hearing from you!

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