"Our goals are a lot higher than six wins"
In the room where Steve Spurrier does his weekly press conferences, there is a dry erase board the coaches use to draw up notes for the players. Off to one side, numbered one through twelve, is this season's schedule. After each game, the opponent is erased, leaving just the number. The message is clear: one game at a time. This week, for the first time, the blank spaces outnumber the names, although the coaches are hoping to add a 13 and maybe even a 14 to the list.
It was somewhat lost in the hubbub of BCS standings, a number six ranking, and confirmation that "We are Carolina," but the Gamecocks are bowl eligible. Aside from a few reporters killing time by going over the SEC bowl tie-ins and the garish sports coats worn by bowl representatives visiting Columbia (the Capital One and Chick-Fil-A have sent representatives, for those keeping score at home), not much has been said about that thirteenth game.
"Somebody said in the history of South Carolina, any time they got bowl eligible, they had a party down in 5 Points," Spurrier said. "They would be hugging and laughing and high-fiving in the locker room. There was none of that. We were disappointed in our performance in the second half. We know it's not going to continue unless we continue to play a lot better these last five games. There was no big celebration in becoming bowl eligible. That's probably the first time in school history. Our goals are a lot higher than six wins."
Linebacker Marvin Sapp said he has not received any congratulations on becoming bowl eligible, not that it even occurred to him Carolina had reached that milestone.
"I heard ESPN mention that we have six wins and we're bowl eligible," he said. "No one on the team mentioned it. We're taking it in stride. It's a good thing, but we want more. Frankly, we've been there before. That's not just what we want to do this year, we want to do something bigger than that. We want to be in the SEC Championship."
The SEC Championship would be the fourteenth game for Carolina, one of the goals Spurrier set for the team at the beginning of the year. With just five games left, four SEC games plus Clemson, the Gamecocks sit atop the SEC East and in the driver's seat for Atlanta. However, you won't find any of the Gamecocks making hotel reservations for Atlanta on December 1.
"Our expectations are up there a bit," said Spurrier, "but we understand we need to play a whole bunch better, coach better if we're going to come close or even have a chance of achieving all of our goals. All of our goals are still out there after seven weeks, so we're in position if we can really start playing a bunch better and coaching better."
Spurrier said the second half against North Carolina was the worst half of football the team has played this season, which surely has the Gamecocks' and the Commodores' attention this week. Vanderbilt suffered a heartbreaking loss to Georgia last week, and they would like nothing better than to redeem themselves by knocking out the sixth ranked team in the country.
"They'll be pumped up coming in here," said tackle Justin Sorensen. "They usually have one big upset every year. I'm sure they're going to come in here fully jacked and ready to go. [Being highly ranked] is a different position to be in since I've been here. It's the best we've done ever since I've been here. It's definitely a big target on us. It's one bad thing about being ranked high is that huge target on your forehead. Everybody's aiming for you, so you have to go out every week and play as hard as you can and keep trying to get better."
Sapp agreed with Sorensen, saying the Gamecocks made too many mistakes against the Tar Heels, and let them back into the game when they had a chance to put them away.
"Everyone saw the game," he said. "We've just got to tighten up in a few areas. It was a close one, too close for comfort. We really know that we can play a lot better than we've been playing."
"We're not sitting here bragging about beating anybody," said Spurrier. "We're just trying to get better as a team. Sometimes maybe winning like that helps you prepare the next week. We certainly don't have cocky players. We have a bunch of players that realize we can lose to anybody we play if we don't improve our play real soon."
Both Sorensen and Sapp are well aware of what Spurrier means. They both mentioned how appreciative they are to be having the success they have experienced this season, but quickly added that if the Gamecocks falter down the stretch, the season will be remembered for a blown opportunity.
"We've been blessed a lot through this season, and we should continue to take advantage of this opportunity" Sapp said. "We're trying to finish this year out in a great way, so that we can have the opportunity to accomplish the things that we set forth at the beginning of the year. We control our own destiny. The more games you win, and the less games you lose, the more important each game becomes. We talk about, right now, our destiny is in our hands. This is a once in a lifetime chance. There's no guarantee that you're ever going to come into this situation again, based on the history of South Carolina. Everyone talks about we don't have any history of winning here. We have our chance right now to make that history."
"All five of the rest of our games are real good teams," Sorensen said. "Just because we're ranked number six, we're not going into any of these games thinking we're going to win. We know they are going to be dog fights."
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