Emotions Crucial in College Football

Are things really that bad? Are football gods this cruel? Perhaps this is all part of an intricate plan by the great coach in the sky. Think about it. If the football gods manage to lower expectations, it may just set the Gamecocks up for a magical run in 2004? ...

If there are football gods, they have wreaked havoc with the Gamecocks and their faithful allegiance of followers. USC had suffered years of mediocrity heading into 1999. Suddenly, Mike McGee did what many thought was impossible. He secured the legendary Lou Holtz to Columbia. Many diehard Gamecock fans expected the football gods to smile upon them as Coach Holtz prepared to turn around the Gamecock program. Instead, the 1999 season saw a final tally of 0-11. Maybe the football gods really didn't like the Gamecocks. Maybe the football gods were just closet taters. Maybe the football gods didn't get the memo about Coach Holtz. Who knows? Despite the apparent grudge of the gods, the Gamecock faithful remained optimistic. We still had Lou and expectations continued high for the future turn around. Gamecock fans became rabid during the 2000 and 2001 seasons. Finally, the 2001 Space Odyssey theme song fit us to perfection. Coach Lou Holtz took the team to two consecutive Outback Bowl victories. It appeared the Mighty Holtz had kicked the gods aside and established himself as master and commander of the Gamecock program. Fans had never been more optimistic. Football gods being what they are, however, were not to be dismissed so easily.

The 2002 season began with lofty expectations. It ended with a disappointing 5-7 finish. Gamecock fans were down, but not out. They continued to cast their hopes on Lou. Surely he had this under control. Ditto 2003. Despite a banner recruiting year and a strong start for the season, USC ended with it's second consecutive 5-7 record. The 2003 season was particularly brutal thanks to a final five game losing streak and the merciless 63-17 scourging by arch rival, Clemson. After arguably the two most successful consecutive seasons in Gamecock football history, the last two have been mediocre at best. The football gods were having their way with us, once again.

The drubbing from the Tigers was only the beginning of a very tumultuous off-season for the Gamecocks. Most of the assistant coaches from the 2003 season were no longer part of the USC staff. Some were fired, others left of their own accord. Players have been shuffled as well. There seems to be a major quarterback controversy. Coach Holtz has taken a beating from every conceivable media outlet including the internet message boards. Negativity that began in November continues today with the latest scandal involving players and their workout habits. There seems to be no end to the wailing and gnashing of teeth this team, coaches, and fans are experiencing.

Are things really that bad? Are football gods this cruel? Perhaps this is all part of an intricate plan by the great coach in the sky. Think about it. If the football gods manage to lower expectations, it may just set the Gamecocks up for a magical run in 2004?

There have been some significant happenings during the off-season. As stated earlier, most of the coaching staff has changed. While wholesale coaching changes may not be the way to build consistency in a program, the last thing the Gamecocks wanted in this case was consistency. Consistency would mean another five win season and another loss to Clemson. Most fans would agree that the replacements were a good decision. Rick Minter, for example, brings a wealth of defensive experience to the table as well as the ability to expand the Gamecock recruiting base into the Midwest. Perhaps Minter's single biggest asset, is that he has worked with Coach Holtz in the past. There is hope that this former relationship will allow Coach Holtz to comfortably give Minter the reins over his own defense. The Gamecocks have plenty of talent on the defensive side of the ball for Minter to work with. Ron Cooper is also a very experienced coach with former ties to Coach Holtz. And of course, there is Rick Stockstill. A man who once wore the orange of the enemy was now to be clad in garnet and black. . Perhaps one could measure his worth simply by how much Gamecock fans used to hate him. Or maybe his worth could be found in how much Clemson fans hate him now. Despite the "sour grapes" rhetoric by some Clemson fans claiming Stockstill to be mediocre, he is a good coach and excellent recruiter. One thing's for certain, Lou seemed to pull a fast one on the football gods with the new hires. The question that will need to be answered in 2004 is..."Can the new coaches have an immediate impact on this year's players?" It often takes time to adjust to new coaching philosophies and time is something we are quickly running short on.

Other off-season activity has revolved around player transfers. Since November, eight Gamecock players have left or transferred to other schools. Attrition is normal at major college football programs. Scholarship limits play a crucial role in this statistic. As cruel as it may sound, college football is a business. BIG business. The scholarships are a form of payment to the athletes performing a service to the school. The coaches must be very selective in spending these limited dollars. They MUST keep only the very best. It's simply a matter of math. Attrition within a winning program is seen as survival of the fittest. A means of pruning and motivating players to continue to strive for excellence. Attrition following a 5-7 season is seen as rats jumping from a sinking ship. When a program is less than successful, everything is magnified and blown out of proportion.

Good news, bad news on the quarterback situation. The good news is the Gamecocks now have more than one stud in the stable. From a pure talent standpoint, it would seem that this is the most talented group of quarterbacks that Holtz has had in his time at South Carolina. Only time will tell if one of those talented quarterbacks will step forward and establish his leadership ability as well as his arm. The bad news is, no clear leader has emerged to date. This continued controversy delays the team's ability to really gel. While there is no lack of ability, there is lack of leadership and the football gods know THAT can destroy a team.

A final consideration is this year's schedule. It sets up well for the Gamecocks. USC gets Alabama in place of the 2003 National Champions, LSU. We'll also get Ole Miss and Arkansas at home. In addition, the Gamecocks have been barely denied by Tennessee over recent years and with Zook at the helm, this may be our year to take Florida. Season openers with Vanderbilt and Georgia are obviously huge as these often set the tone for the rest of the season. Emotion is always a tremendous factor in college football. This year it seems especially critical for the Gamecocks. Good things need to happen early. 2004 needs to be the year that Lou Holtz finally kicks the cruel football gods out of town for good. After all, who wouldn't love to see a State Newspaper headline that read: "Gamecocks Win SEC Championship: Football Gods Say Wait til Next Year."

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