What if a college football playoff was old news?
What if, instead of unveiling a four-team playoff this season, the sport had been using a 16-team playoff since 1936, when the AP Poll was first created? Which years would the Gamecocks have had a chance to compete in the tournament and who would have stood in their way?
After going back through South Carolina’s rankings in the AP Poll before bowls were played, here is a list of the teams that would have made a 16-team playoff and their likely opponents. Note that, in this hypothetical, the higher-seeded team plays at home until the championship, which would be played wherever the “national title” game was held that year.
1958 Gamecocks (#15 seed)
PATH TO THE TITLE: at #2 Iowa, at #7 Wisconsin, at #3 Army, vs. #1 LSU (Sugar Bowl, New Orleans)
The Gamecocks squeak into the tournament with a 7-3 overall record. Their strong finish of four consecutive wins help them avoid the #16 seed. A Cinderella run to the Final Four pits them against Army’s Heisman-winning tailback, Pete Dawkins.
1979 Gamecocks (#16 seed)
PATH TO THE TITLE: at #1 Ohio State, at #8 Houston, at #4 Florida State, vs. #2 Alabama (Sugar Bowl, New Orleans)
Two late-season wins over Wake Forest and Clemson propel the Gamecocks into the playoff. The season-ending rivalry game with the Tigers turns out to be a play-in game, as Clemson is one of the last teams out. A run to the semifinals gives the Gamecocks a rematch with Florida State, which beat South Carolina 27-7 in Tallahassee in the regular season.
1984 Gamecocks (#7 seed)
PATH TO THE TITLE: vs. #10 SMU, at #2 Oklahoma, at #3 Florida, vs. #1 BYU (Holliday Bowl, San Diego)
A 10-1 regular season gives South Carolina its first ever home playoff game. Instead of a bowl matchup with Oklahoma State, the Gamecocks gets the Sooners in the quarterfinals. A win over Oklahoma sends South Carolina to “The Swamp” for the first time in 20 years.
1987 Gamecocks (#9 seed)
PATH TO THE TITLE: at #8 Michigan State, at #1 Oklahoma, at #4 Syracuse, vs. #2 Miami (Orange Bowl, Miami)
A season-ending loss to Miami drops the Gamecocks from the #8 spot and forces them to go on the road. After facing the top-ranked Sooners in the semifinals, South Carolina gets one more shot at “The U” in the Orange Bowl, with a national championship on the line.
2001 Gamecocks (#14 seed)
PATH TO THE TITLE: at #3 Colorado, at #6 Maryland, at #2 Oregon, vs. #1 Miami (Rose Bowl, Pasadena)
The Gamecocks snap a 13-year playoff drought by beating Clemson in the regular-season finale to leap up in the polls. Their reward is a trip to Boulder for first game against Colorado in school history. Advancing to the national championship means facing a team many believe to be the best in college football history.
2011 Gamecocks (#10 seed)
PATH TO THE TITLE: at #7 Arkansas, at #2 Alabama, at #3 Oklahoma State, vs. #1 LSU (Sugar Bowl, New Orleans)
South Carolina is rewarded for a 10-2 regular season with a trip to Fayetteville to face the team that handed them their worst loss of the season. A win there means taking on an Alabama team still simmering over the 2010 game. Steve Spurrier gets a crack at beating Les Miles for the first time in his Gamecock tenure in the national championship.
2012 Gamecocks (#10 seed)*
*(All teams besides Notre Dame and Alabama are bumped up because #3 Ohio State is ineligible for the postseason)
PATH TO THE TITLE: at #7 Stanford, at #2 Alabama, at #3 Florida, vs. #1 Notre Dame (Orange Bowl, Miami)
Steve Spurrier leads South Carolina to back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time in school history. The Gamecocks improve from #11 to #10 because of Ohio State’s ineligibility (and avoid a first-round trip to Athens to take on a Georgia team desperate for revenge). Advancing to the Final Four means another shot at a Florida team that embarrassed South Carolina in October.
2013 Gamecocks (#8 seed)
PATH TO THE TITLE: vs. #9 Missouri, at #1 Florida State, at #4 Michigan State, vs. #2 Auburn (Rose Bowl, Pasadena)
The Gamecocks make their third consecutive trip to the postseason and get to host their second home playoff game ever. After playing one of the most exciting games of the 2013 season, the Gamecocks get Missouri at home with a healthy Connor Shaw. A win over the Tigers means a matchup with Jameis Winston and the Seminoles. Gamecock alum Mark Dantonio waits in the semifinals, while South Carolina gets a chance to exorcise the demons of 2010 with a matchup against Auburn in the championship.