It was only a few seasons ago that South Carolina's football program found itself in the Top 10 rankings. After a fun win in Chapel Hill over the Tar Heels, USC was elevated to number 6. They had a 6-1 record, Vanderbilt at home the following week and appeared to be in great shape in the SEC East race.
They didn't win again and missed out on a bowl game.
That was 2007. This is 2010.
The '07 squad still had several players who believed in their own hype. The '10 squad doesn't seem to have that problem. That said, the proof of how hard it is to "get up" for every game was on display Saturday at Williams-Brice Stadium. Alabama was playing its third straight Top 20 opponent and second on the road in that span. They didn't seem to be clicking on all cylinders and Carolina took advantage in its impressive 35-21 win over the National Champs.
I'm not writing this to diminish Carolina's accomplishment. It was hard earned. It was thorough. It was special for Gamecock Nation. It was though, however monumental, just one win.
Carolina now finds itself in rarified air: first place all by themselves in the SEC East. 4-1 overall, 2-1 in conference play. They will likely be favored in each of their next four games, and, depending on what they and their opponents do in the next few weeks, favored in all of their remaining contests, though I don't see Florida being a home dog to USC - at least not yet.
How will these 2010 Gamecocks handle their current status? Based on what I've seen of their effort and attitude thus far, much better than the '07 team. From January of this year on, Steve Spurrier's been reminding all of us - a lot - of just how bad the bowl loss to UConn was. His team seems to have not only listened but truly done something about it. That's a huge step forward for the program.
They've played sixty minutes of football in each SEC game. The non-con games were never in doubt. The caliber of player now putting on a Gamecock uniform has changed. They aren't surprised when they play well. They expect it. They don't need to be reminded to work hard. They expect it. That should fill fans with hope and the team with confidence.
I think I know the answer to the question I posed earlier, but that's why we play the games. Let's see what these new-look Gamecocks think Saturday in Lexington. That's when the hard part begins.