(WSPA) – The sports team at WSPA has created a ‘Top 10 Moments in South Carolina Athletics’ countdown. Starting Tuesday April 14, we will be revealing portions of the list nightly on 7 News and online at wspa.com leading up to the top moment in Gamecocks history. Be sure to follow along as we break down these monumental achievements featuring interviews with Phil Kornblut of SportsTalk Radio Network.
#4: 2010 SEC East Football Championship Run
The 2010 South Carolina Gamecocks became the first team in program history to capture an SEC East football title, while recording some of the most memorable wins along the way. Not only did the Gamecocks achieve a top 10 ranking in the season, they thwarted the biggest powerhouse in college football, the top ranked Alabama Crimson Tide. With several highly recruited players on the roster, the 2010 Gamecocks set the stage for the best four year run in the history of USC football.
Head coach Steve Spurrier entered his sixth season at the helm having achieved moderate success with the program, winning seven or more games in all but one of those seasons. However, Spurrier and the Gamecocks were coming off of back-to-back losses in both the Outback and PapaJohns.com Bowls.
“He just couldn’t get them over the hump at that particular time,” said Phil Kornblut, who’s covered South Carolina Athletics for over 35 years on the SportsTalk Radio Network.
“2010 was kind of that corner that you turn,” said Kornblut. “Because the talent level had picked up tremendously.”
Spurrier’s influence as a recruiter was taking form as he landed some of the best in-state talent South Carolina had to offer.
“They had Marcus Lattimore on that team. They had Stephen Garcia back. They had Alshon Jeffery on that team. They started to add some big-time pieces,” said Korblut.
And that wasn’t all. Future NFL Pro Bowler Melvin Ingram helped round out an impressive defensive line as well.
A strong start to the season provided the foundation USC would need to make a run at an SEC Championship. The Gamecocks began the season 3-0, including a 17-6 win over No. 22 Georgia in week two. Then came the Auburn game.
The Tigers were a formidable group led by Heisman candidate quarterback, Cam Newton. A close game ended in a 27-25 loss, and the Gamecocks resilience was tested, especially heading into a home game against the best team in college football.
The Alabama Game
South Carolina was host to Alabama on October 9, 2010 at Williams-Brice Stadium. The Gamecocks entered play as the 19th-ranked team in the nation, but they played like the best, against the best, that day.
The Crimson Tide drew first blood, scoring on a 32-yard field goal to go up 3-0. But the USC offense responsed.
Quarterback Stephen Garcia led the Gamecocks on three straight scoring drives, ending the first with a touchdown pass to Lattimore, and then two more to Jeffery. By the half it was 21-11 South Carolina.
Lattimore took over in the second half, after Alabama pulled within a touchdown midway through the third quarter, as Spurrier called on his standout running back to finish the job.
Lattimore made it 28-14 after a short touchdown run late in the third quarter to give some cushion against the nation’s best. But Alabama answered with a score of its own, and it was once again a seven-point game.
But Latimore helped the Gamecocks pull away late in the fourth quarter with a touchdown run putting his team up 35-21 with seven minutes to go. The Gamecocks held off the Crimson Tide down the stretch and won by 14 points.
“That was one of the big moments in Gamecock history,” said Kornblut.
The victory put South Carolina football in the national spotlight and they moved into the Top 10 in the rankings.
But the elation was quickly met with disappointment against Kentucky the following week. The Wildcats topped the Gamecocks, 31-28, and South Carolina dropped back to number 19 in the polls.
“They had some high hopes after that Alabama game, and that kind of set them back there for a little bit,” said Kornblut. “But they recovered.”
SEC East Race
South Carolina stacked wins after the loss, beating Vanderbilt and Tennessee in back-to-back weeks. At that point they were 4-2 in SEC play. But a loss to number 17 Arkansas dropped them to 4-3 in the conference, endangering their chances of winning a division title. They had a chance, though, to bounce back when they visited number 24 Florida.
The Gamecocks’ running game was on full display in Gainesville on November 13, rushing for over 200 yards in a 36-14 win over Will Muschamp and the Gators.
“That really was Lattimore’s coming out party,” said Kornblut. “They gave him the football a lot that day and he responded big time.”
They finished the regular season 9-3 overall but their 5-3 SEC mark earned them East Division title for the first time with a one-game advantage over Florida (4-4).
The Gamecocks closed out the season with a win in Death Valley over Clemson, and eventually advanced to the SEC Championship game against Auburn at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. But the magic ran out on their historic season. They lost to the eventual national champion Tigers and the Heisman Trophy winner, Newton, 56-17.
“A lot of excitement for Gamecock fans, dreaming big,” said Kornblut. “They knew they weren’t going to win the national championship, but to win an SEC Championship would have been huge at that point and time. But they just ran into the best team in the country.”
The season concluded with a loss to Florida State in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl back in Atlanta later that month.
But their epic season with signature victories sparked an unprecedented run in program history. Including the 2010 season, the Gamecocks put together a four-year run that included four consecutive wins over Clemson, an SEC East title, and three 11-win seasons (‘11-’13).
“The best stretch of football in South Carolina history,” said Kornblut. “You gotta give them all the credit, they played very hard and played with a lot of pride for Spurrier and the program. They had the momentum going.”
South Carolina Top Ten List: