I caught some of the Steve Spurrier "In My Own Words" special that aired on SportSouth recently. It was good. Like my friend Travis Haney, I too wondered how they got Spurrier to sit still for that long, but whatever they did, well done. That's not the point of today's post, however.
During the show Spurrier, as he discussed wanting to win the SEC at USC, brought up the fact that South Carolina has only one conference football championship. That's true of course, but it dawned on me that it is also a bit misleading.
South Carolina, as is well documented, left the ACC after the 1970 - '71 school year. Until it began play in the SEC in 1992, the Gamecocks football program was a 1A independent. With Paul Dietzel's 1966 arrival, South Carolina finally began to take football more seriously. They won the 1969 ACC title and began, in a relative sense, a good run of success. Jim Carlen and Joe Morrison both had three bowl trips, and Carlen is responsible for both his teams' successes AND leaving behind a great group of talent for Morrison to build on. (Richard Bell's one year doesn't factor in the discussion!)
During the 21 seasons the Gamecocks went without being in a conference, they played 93 games against ACC members, going 49-42-2. For the sake of the discussion, and to get an even larger sampling, I'll throw Florida State in the mix and include the eight games Carolina and Georgia Tech played before the Jackets joined the ACC, which brings what I call a "potential ACC" record of 57-55-2. (Note - SC and GT played from '71-'78, then stopped when GT joined the ACC. The series resumed for four years from '88 - '91.)
In those 21 seasons, the Gamecocks posted eight winning records versus either actual or potential ACC opponents. There was one season at .500, and the other twelve were obviously losing records. The lists below include Carolina's record versus each school during that span, as well as the records of the eight winning seasons, plus the record of that year's actual ACC champion. Here you go:
Records vs ACC teams from 1971 - 1991
NC State 9-12 (only ACC school besides CU to play vs SC each year)
North Carolina 5-5
Wake Forest 12-1
Georgia Tech 2-2
"Potential" ACC teams (both were 1A independents)
Georgia Tech 5-3
Florida State 3-10
USC winning record seasons (w/ actual (A) record vs ACC, "potential" (P) w GT, FSU incl, plus ACC Champ)
1971 4-2 A, 5-3 P ... UNC 6-0
1973 2-1 A, 4-1 P ... NCSU 6-0
1975 4-1 A, 5-1 P ... Maryland 5-0
1976 3-2 A, 4-2 P ... UNC 5-0-1
1979 4-1 A, 4-2 P ... NCSU 5-1
1981 5-1 A ... Clemson 6-0
1984 3-0 A, 4-0 P ... Maryland 5-0
1987 4-0 A ... Clemson 6-1
(No games vs "potential" teams in '81 or '87)
While I'm certainly not here to tell you that South Carolina would definitely have captured the conference title in any of those years, (after all, they never actually played a full schedule) it is certainly realistic to think that in many of those eight seasons the Gamecocks would have been a real challenger, especially in 1973, '75, '79, '81, '84 and ''87.
Please understand this too: I am in NO WAY making this point to say South Carolina should be a member of the ACC. In fact, there have been several times when I've had heated discussions with folks who believe that should be the case. The SEC membership Carolina now enjoys is still the best thing that's ever happened to the school from an athletic perspective, and I'll do all I can to keep it that way. That said, given the positive differences Dietzel made and the methods of Carlen and Morrison after him, my gut tells me that had Carolina remained an ACC member, they'd have won another title or two...or more.
Of course, if USC hadn't left the ACC in the first place, they wouldn't be in the SEC now, so it all worked out. However, it's always fun to play "What If?". So next time you hear someone say they only have one title, remember that for 21 years of relatively good football, the Gamecocks never had a chance to win one. Something to think about, but it's not worth regretting. If they can ever pull off an SEC title, a lot of people will forget Carolina was in the ACC at all.