Sept. 2, 2009
SETTING THE STAGE
The University of South Carolina opens its 116th season of intercollegiate football, dating back to 1892, and the 2009 season on the road against the NC State Wolfpack on Thursday, Sept. 3, in front of an ESPN national-television audience at Carter-Finley Stadium. This is the 102nd-consecutive year in which South Carolina has competed on the gridiron. The University did not field a team in either 1893 or 1906. Carolina owns an all-time record of 527-530-44. The 2009 season marks the 40th anniversary of school’s only conference championship, which came in the 1969 season when it posted a perfect 6-0 record to win the Atlantic Coast Conference title in Paul Dietzel’s fourth year.
â€¢ This is the fourth time in five years that South Carolina has opened its season with a nationally televised ESPN game on a Thursday night. The Gamecocks are 3-0 in those previous contests, with wins over NC State (2008), Mississippi State (2007) and Central Florida (2005).
â€¢ South Carolina is 75-36-4 (.670) all-time in season-openers. The Gamecocks have won nine lidlifters in a row and 12 out of their last 13. The only loss in that stretch – a 10-0 setback at NC State in 1999.
â€¢ Of the Carolina starters in last year’s season opener against the Wolfpack, 12 of the 22 are still on the Gamecock roster (6 offense, 6 defense).
â€¢ The Gamecocks were picked to finish third in the Southeastern Conference’s Eastern Division for the first time since 2001. The selection snapped a seven-year string of South Carolina being tabbed for the fourth spot in the SEC East.
â€¢ Only Clemson (106) and Georgia (61) have faced South Carolina more times than NC State (56).
The Gamecocks are 75-36-4 in season openers, a .670 winning percentage. The Gamecocks have wins in each of their last nine and in 12 of their last 13 season lidlifters. The only loss in that stretch was a 10-0 setback at NC State in the 1999 season opener.
OPENERS ON THE ROAD
The Gamecocks have opened the season on the road 25 times in 115 years of football at the intercollegiate level. In those games, the Gamecocks are 7-18 for a .280 winning percentage. The last road opener came in the 2006 season when South Carolina notched a 15-0 victory at Mississippi State. This is only the third season opener on the road since the 1999 loss at NC State; Carolina is 2-0 in those contests with the win over MSU and a win over Vanderbilt in 2004.
THE HBC IN OPENERS
South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier is 18-1 in season-opening games in his 19 seasons as a collegiate head coach. The only loss in that stretch was ironically a 27-21 loss to the Carolina Gamecocks in Columbia on Sept. 2, 1989, when he was the head ball coach in his final season at Duke. That Blue Devil squad went on to win the ACC title. The Carolina victory was led by the great Todd Ellis, who is now the play-by-play voice of Gamecock Football. Since that time, Coach Spurrier has won 16 straight season opening games with his squad scoring 40 or more points in 10 of those 16 games.
RENEWING AN OLD RIVALRY
With its victory in Columbia last season, South Carolina evened the all-time score with NC State, 26-26-4, in a series that dates back to 1900 (a Carolina 12-0 shutout). This is the 57th time the Gamecocks have played NC State, which gives the Wolfpack the third-most games played against Carolina, trailing only Clemson (106) and Georgia (61). However, this is just the third meeting since 1991. The teams met every year from 1968-1991 and met every year except 1967 from 1956-91. The Wolfpack posted a 10-0 win in the 1999 season opener and has won four of the last five meetings between the two squads. Carolina’s last win in Raleigh came by a 23-7 score on Oct. 29, 1988.
THE LAST TIME THEY MET
South Carolina overcame four interceptions by first-time starter Tommy Beecher to give Steve Spurrier his 16th-straight opening game victory, 34-0 over NC State on Aug. 28, 2008. Mike Davis and Taylor Rank had rushing touchdowns, and Dion Lecorn and Jared Cook caught TD passes from backup Chris Smelley to lift the Gamecocks and keep alive Spurrier’s first-week streak which began in 1990 at Florida. Beecher finished 12 of 22 for 106 yards. The defense, headed by new coordinator Ellis Johnson, bottled up the Wolfpack throughout. NC State had just 117 yards and eight first downs through three quarters. The closest the Wolfpack came to scoring was Josh Czajkowski missing a 49-yard field goal attempt. South Carolina linebacker Eric Norwood recovered a botched shotgun snap at the Wolfpack 9 right before halftime that led to Ryan Succop’s 29-yard field goal and a 3-0 lead. Then on the Wolfpack’s second play after halftime, Carlos Thomas stepped in front of a Daniel Evans pass for an interception at the North Carolina State 9. Four plays later, Davis leapt into the end zone. Succop added a 46-yarder at the end of the third quarter. Smelley’s 5-of-5 performance included sharp scoring throws of 20 yards to LeCorn and 13 yards to Cook. Davis finished with 101 yards, the senior’s fourth career game of at least 100.
THE HBC VS NC STATE
South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier owns a 3-1-1 record against NC State, with the first three meetings while he was the head coach at Duke. He dropped a wild 47-45 decision in Durham in 1987, battled to a 43-43 tie in Raleigh in 1988, then posted a 35-26 win in Durham en route to an ACC Championship in 1989. While at Florida, he led the Gators to a 27-10 win over NC State in the 1992 Gator Bowl. He got his third victory in the 34-0 Carolina win last year in Columbia.
GAMECOCKS VS. THE ACC
The Gamecocks own a 191-240-22 record all-time against teams from the Atlantic Coast Conference. South Carolina was a member of the ACC from 1953-1970. They posted the only conference championship in school history as a member of the ACC in 1969 when they went 6-0 under Paul Dietzel, including a 21-16 win over NC State in Columbia. The Gamecocks were 1-1 against ACC foes last season, defeating NC State by a 34-0 score in Columbia, then losing at Clemson by a 31-14 margin.
THURSDAY NIGHT SPECIAL
This marks the fifth-straight season in which the Gamecocks have played a Thursday night contest. Actually, they will play two in 2009, as they will be featured again on ESPN Thursday night on Sept. 24, when the Ole Miss Rebels visit Columbia for the first time since 2004. The Gamecocks are 4-2 over the past four years in Thursday night specials. Carolina opened its 2005 season on a Thursday night with a 24-15 win against Central Florida. In 2006, the Gamecocks opened the season at Mississippi State on a Thursday and came away with a 15-0 win. They also lost a mid-season Thursday night contest at home to Auburn by a 24-17 margin. In 2007, they defeated eighth-ranked Kentucky at home on a Thursday night by a 38-23 score. Last season, the Gamecocks took down NC State in the season opener at home by a 34-0 margin, then lost the next Thursday night at Vanderbilt by a 24-17 count.
The South Carolina Gamecocks open the 2009 season receiving votes in both the Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today Coaches Polls. Carolina picked up 18 votes in the coaches’ poll to place 37th while the AP voters gave the Gamecocks two votes to place them 49th in that poll. Four SEC schools on the 2009 Gamecock slate are consensus preseason top-15 schools: Florida (1/1), Alabama (5/5), Ole Miss (8/10) and Georgia (13/13). Six more opponents are receiving votes in one or both polls, including Clemson, Tennessee, NC State, Vanderbilt, Kentucky and Arkansas. In addition, Week 5 opponent South Carolina State is ranked 16th in the preseason FCS Coaches’ Poll.
The Gamecocks officially return 12 starters from the 2008 squad (five on offense, six on defense and one specialist). The returning offensive starters are OC Garrett Anderson, WR Jason Barnes, OG Terrence Campbell, FB Patrick DiMarco and OT Jarriel King. The returning defensive starters include DT Ladi Ajiboye, FS Chris Culliver, DE Cliff Matthews, LB Eric Norwood, DT Nathan Pepper and S Darian Stewart. Junior Spencer Lanning is the returning punter and will handle placekicking duties this fall as well.
GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN
The Gamecocks said goodbye to 28 lettermen, including 12 starters, six on offense, five on defense and one on special teams. The departing starters include: TE Jared Cook, TB Mike Davis, WR Kenny McKinley, OG Jamon Meredith, QB Chris Smelley and OT Justin Sorensen, LB Jasper Brinkley, SS Emanuel Cook, DE Jordin Lindsey, CB Captain Munnerlyn, CB Stoney Woodson and PK Ryan Succop.
South Carolina won seven of its first 10 games before finishing 7-6 overall, third in the SEC Eastern Division, and earning a berth in the 2009 Outback Bowl in Tampa, Fla. All six losses came against schools that would eventually play in postseason bowl games, including SEC and National Champion Florida. The Gamecocks were 5-2 in the friendly confines of Williams-Brice Stadium and were 2-3 in road contests. It was the fifth-straight season at .500 or better for South Carolina, a feat not accomplished since the 1930s.
The Gamecocks played on New Year’s Day or later for just the fifth time in school history and for the first time since the 2001 season, as they were invited to the Outback Bowl in Tampa on January 1 to face the Iowa Hawkeyes. It marked the fifth-straight year in which the Gamecocks have been bowl-eligible, the longest streak in the modern era. The Hawkeyes came away with a 31-10 win, sending Carolina to its 10th loss in 14 bowl game appearances.
The Gamecocks had one of the nation’s toughest schedules in 2008, facing four ranked opponents during the regular season. According to the NCAA, Carolina’s schedule was ranked as the 26th-toughest in Division I football. Eight of South Carolina’s 12 regular-season opponents played in a bowl game last year, with six of those teams posting victories. In addition, Wofford advanced to the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs, falling to James Madison in the first round.
TOUGH ROAD AHEAD
The 2009 Gamecock schedule is rated the nation’s toughest, according to Phil Steele’s 2009 College Football Preview magazine. Carolina is followed by Florida State, Oklahoma, Mississippi State and Minnesota in the top 5. The Gamecocks will face four of the top 13 teams in the country in 2008, according to the preseason polls. Florida is the top-ranked team in both polls. The Gators will make their way to Columbia on Nov. 14 in what is likely to be a nationally-televised contest. Alabama enters the season ranked fifth in both polls. Carolina will travel to Tuscaloosa on Oct. 17. Mississippi is eighth in the AP poll and 10th in the Coaches’ rankings. The Rebels will visit Columbia for a Thursday night ESPN tilt on Sept. 24. Georgia begins the season ranked 13th in both polls. The Bulldogs play host to Carolina in the season’s second contest, a 7 p.m. ESPN2 telecast on Sept. 12.
UNDER COACH SPURRIER
Head coach Steve Spurrier is 28-22 in his four seasons in Columbia. He tied the school record for wins (7) in his first season at the helm; tied for the most wins (15) in his first two seasons of any Carolina head coach; recorded the most wins (21) by a Carolina head coach in his first three seasons; and surpassed Warren Giese (25 wins from 1956-59) for the most wins by a coach in his first four seasons on the Carolina sidelines. He has logged a .500 or better record in four straight seasons, the first coach to do that at Carolina since the final four years of the Jim Carlen Era (1978-81). Coach Spurrier is the first coach in Carolina history to take his team to three bowl games in his first four seasons on the sidelines. He also has matched Jim Carlen and Joe Morrison for the most bowl appearances (3) as a Carolina head coach.
WINNING MORE OFTEN
The Gamecocks have posted five consecutive seasons of at least a .500 record, going 6-5 in 2004, 7-5 in 2005, 8-5 in 2006, 6-6 in 2007 and 7-6 in 2008. It’s the first time they have accomplished that feat since 1928-34.
Steve Spurrier made numerous changes to his coaching staff in the off-season, promoting Ellis Johnson to assistant head coach-defense and bringing in Jay Graham (running backs/asst. special teams), Jeep Hunter (tight ends/asst. special teams), G.A. Mangus (quarterbacks), Lorenzo Ward (defensive coordinator), Eric Wolford (offensive line/running game coordinator) and Craig Fitzgerald (strength and conditioning).
The Gamecocks averaged 80,529 fans for their seven home games in 2008. That average ranked 17th in Division I football, up two spots from the 2007 season. Seven of the top 20 schools in home attendance hail from the SEC.
The Gamecocks have played just two overtime games in their history, both at Tennessee. They dropped a 23-20 decision in Knoxville on Sept. 27, 2003, then fell by a 27-24 score on Oct. 27, 2007, also at Neyland Stadium. Every other SEC team has played at least three overtime games since the rule was established in 1996.
PIPELINE TO THE NFL
South Carolina tied for having the second-most players selected in the 2009 NFL Draft of any school in the nation, matching Oregon State and Ohio State for that honor behind Southern California. Selected were:
â€¢ Jared Cook (3rd round, Tennessee)
â€¢ Kenny McKinley (5th round, Denver)
â€¢ Jasper Brinkley (5th round, Minnesota)
â€¢ Jamon Meredith (5th round, Green Bay)
â€¢ Captain Munnerlyn (7th round, Carolina)
â€¢ Stoney Woodson (7th round, N.Y. Giants)
â€¢ Ryan Succop (7th round, Kansas City)
COMING IN EARLY
The Gamecocks welcomed in three scholarship players who graduated from high school in December and went through spring drills for the first time in 2009 in Jarvis Giles, Stephon Gilmore and DeVonte Holloman. Over the past four seasons, the Gamecocks have seen nine players arrive on campus earlier than the norm. Clark Gaston did so in 2006, while Stephen Garcia and Travian Robertson arrived in January 2007. Jay Spearman, C.C. Whitlock and Shaq Wilson all went through spring drills in 2008 after graduating from high school in the previous December.
In the Garnet and Black Spring Game, the Garnet defeated the Black by a 30-14 score on April 11. An estimated crowd of 25,157 was on hand at Williams-Brice Stadium. Freshman Jarvis Giles was the offensive star, rushing 12 times for 114 yards, including a pair of scores. Redshirt freshman back Kenny Miles added 81 yards and a score on 12 carries. Sophomore quarterback Stephen Garcia finished the afternoon by completing 13-of-20 passes for 144 yards and two touchdowns. Reginald Bowens was the top tackler with eight stops, including a sack.
IN THE CLASSROOM
The Gamecocks had 24 players named to the 2008 SEC Fall Academic Honor Roll. Included were Pierre Andrews, Yvan Banag, Tommy Beecher, Ryan Broadhead, Patrick DiMarco, Stephen Flint, Foxy Foxworth, Marque Hall, Lemuel Jeanpierre, Alex McGrath, Jamon Meredith, Travian Robertson, Hardee Sanders, Chris Smelley, Cedrick Snead, Justin Sorensen, Nate Spurrier, Scott Spurrier, Ryan Succop, Charles Turner, Chris Vaughn, Addison Williams, Stoney Woodson and Greg Wright. The Gamecocks also posted the best GPA in team history during the 2009 spring semester with a 2.669. FEW SENIORS
South Carolina has just nine players on its roster who are seniors. Of those, Lemuel Jeanpierre, Nathan Pepper and Gerrod Sinclar are fifth-year seniors, while Garrett Anderson, Moe Brown, Eric Norwood and Darian Stewart are in their fourth year. Former walk-ons John Guerry and Scott Spurrier earned scholarships during fall practice. With only nine seniors, the Gamecocks are tied with Duke for the second-fewest seniors in the country. Boise State has the fewest with four.
The Gamecocks come in all shapes and sizes. The tallest player on the roster is Clifton Geathers, who checks in at 6-8 this fall. He is followed closely by his backup, Devin Taylor. The shortest players are Cedrick Snead, Bryce Sherman and Scott Spurrier, all listed at 5-6. The Gamecocks have eight players that tip the scale at 300 pounds or better, including seven offensive linemen. Rokevious Watkins is the heaviest player on the squad at 340 pounds, followed by Jarriel King at 312. Kevin Young (310), Heath Batchelor (308), Garrett Anderson (307), Seaver Brown (303), Nathan Pepper (300) and Steven Singleton (300) round out those at three bills. Scott Spurrier (160) and C.C. Whitlock (173) are the only returning players listed under 175 pounds. Newcomers Jimmy Legree (170), DeAngelo Smith (170), Bryce Sherman (155), Brandan Davis (175) and Marty Markett (170) all tip the scales at 175 or less.
The Gamecocks will travel to Athens, Ga., to open their SEC schedule Saturday, Sept. 12, against the Georgia Bulldogs. Game time is set for 7 p.m. ET with the game televised by ESPN2. Georgia leads the all-time series, 45-14-2.