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South Carolina: College Football’s Self-Destruct Button

College football is the most chaotic sport out there. Despite that inherent uncertainty, plenty of things stay the same. One such surety is that Pitt will continue to be college football’s superweapon. And if Pitt is the sport’s Death Star, then South Carolina is the exhaust port that blows the entire thing up. For those who are unaware, the Pitt superweapon terminology comes from the school’s propensity to follow up a string of ugly losses with one massive, season-altering upset. Think 2017, when a 5-win Pitt team upset #2 Miami, ending their undefeated season. This is not at all dissimilar from South Carolina in recent years, with one major difference: expectations. Nobody ever expects Pitt to be good. We all just wait for the next upset, and then ignore them while they charge back up. USC, on the other hand, brings their aspirations into the mix. Especially under Spurrier, the Gamecocks had chances to be great. But, like the living self-destruct switch they are, they have found a way to blow up the college football world time after time. Ok, it’s not a perfect 1 to 1 analogy, but at least hear me out.

In this example, the Death Star is college football in general. What we expect to happen: the blue bloods to keep winning, the most talented teams to be in the playoff at year’s end, etc. South Carolina then, is that pesky exhaust port that, for some reason, someone left in there to ruin everything. Unlike Pitt, the Gamecocks are detonated just as often as they are the ones doing the detonating. Have a super talented team that everyone expects to win the division? Hello Kentucky. Has everyone lost faith in the team and they’re now a punching bag? Someone’s season is about to get tanked (spoiler alert: it’s probably going to be Georgia).

This isn’t even a new phenomenon. The Fightin’ Chickens came into the 2000 season on a 21-game losing streak. After snapping it with a win over New Mexico State in a cupcake game, the kill-switch was activated, and they beat #10 Georgia, launching them to back-to-back top 25 seasons and Outback Bowl wins over Ohio State. By 2005, they’d sunk back to mediocrity. And how did they respond to this return to irrelevance? By beating a Florida team led by Chris Leak and a staff comprised of 5 future head coaches. Now Spurrier was building some real momentum. They kept winning the games they were supposed to and snagged a few upsets. Midway through the 2007 season, USC beat the 8th ranked Kentucky Wildcats and worked their way up to #6. Suddenly, they were in the driver’s seat to win the SEC East, with the rest of their schedule being a cakewalk. If you think that’s what happened, then you obviously haven’t been paying attention. They, of course, lost at home to Vanderbilt, starting a 5-game losing streak that left them without a bowl invitation. And now we come to the most well-known example. In 2010,  the Gamecocks beat the #1 Alabama Crimson Tide, ending their 19-game winning streak and shocking the nation. There was no other way to follow up this historic victory than to lose to Kentucky. Each of the next few seasons they had a chance to return to the SEC championship and blew it to a terrible team. The exhaust port may have been added before he got there, but Steve Spurrier spent his tenure making the trench to it as wide open as possible. And, as no other coach could, he made his exit like the Joker leaving Gotham General, beating 11-1 UNC weeks before he quit and they lost to the Citadel.

The first years of the Will Muschamp era were akin to the first two acts of Rogue One. He and his ragtag team of rebels fought valiantly against the rising evils that were the Clemson Tigers and Georgia Bulldogs. Despite their best efforts, they were simply overmatched and had begun to lose faith that they could ever reclaim their former glory. But then, just as all hope seemed lost, in stepped college football’s Jyn Erso. One Jacob Fromm sacrificed himself to bring Muschamp the Death Star plans. The Gamecocks ended an 11-game losing streak to ranked teams and kicked the Dawgs out of the playoff picture entirely. The kill-switch was back and stronger than ever. Now obviously they only won a single game after that, but that’s just how it goes. They had ruined someone’s year and now could rest. And rest they did. Since that day, USC has only beaten Vanderbilt. And with three ranked opponents on the horizon, that sounds like bad news. For them.

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