South Carolina Football’s GOAT Series: Top-10 greatest Gamecock football seasons of all-time

South Carolina football's only Heisman Trophy winner, running back George Rogers, dominated the 1980 season. Mandatory Credit: Malcolm Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
South Carolina football's only Heisman Trophy winner, running back George Rogers, dominated the 1980 season. Mandatory Credit: Malcolm Emmons-USA TODAY Sports /
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South Carolina football has a long history. The Gamecocks have been playing for 130 years, and they have played continuously since 1909, making the University of South Carolina football program one of the oldest programs in America. Things haven’t always been pretty for the Gamecocks on the field, but the Carolina fanbase has been witness to some special seasons in Columbia. Which season was the best season for the garnet and black?

Honorable Mention

1903:  The Gamecocks went 8-2 in 1903, and that sounds impressive. However, when one realizes that three of the victories came against Guilford College, Welch Neck High School, and the Columbia YMCA, that sort of puts a damper on things. Lopsided shutouts against Georgia, Tennessee, and Georgia Tech proved this team was good, but 5-2 against teams that count isn’t a massively successful campaign.

1925: 1925 was successful for the Gamecocks as new head coach Branch Bocock led the Gamecocks to a good season in the premier conference of the day, the Southern Conference. Carolina went 7-3 with close losses to Virginia Tech (called Virginia Polytechnic Institute at the time), North Carolina, and Furman but beat Clemson 33-0 and allowed under 3 points per game on defense for the third-best mark in the nation.

1953: A top-15 finish for the Gamecocks was the reward for going 7-3 in 1953. Coach Rex Enright led the Gamecocks to a combined 32-7 score in wins over rivals Clemson and North Carolina but lost three games in an absolutely loaded ACC. Jacobs Blocking Trophy winner Bill Wohrman was the lead blocker (at fullback) for a backfield that was among the best rushing attacks in the ACC.

1958: The Gamecocks’ 1958 season also finished with a top-15 ranking, and coach Warren Giese had his second 7-3 season in his third year in Columbia. The four-headed monster in the backfield of Bobby Bunch, Alex Hawkins, King Dixon, and John Saunders carried the load for South Carolina, and Hawkins brought home ACC Player of the Year honors and made an All-American team running behind the Jacobs Blocking Trophy winner Saunders.

1973: After Carolina broke out of a bad 1960s with an ACC title in ’69, the 1970s were an extremely average decade. One of the highlights was the 1973 season when the Gamecocks won 7 games. That year, the Gamecocks had one of the program’s most impressive wins (a 52-12 thrashing of Florida State in Tallahassee), but they also suffered four losses to four top-16 teams, keeping the Gamecocks out of a bowl despite 7 wins.

1975: 1975 was an up-and-down campaign that should have finished better for the Gamecocks. Carolina thumped Clemson 56-20 in one of the biggest blowouts in the series’ history, but they also lost at home to App State and to one of the worst LSU teams in history. If either of these results was reversed, third-year starting quarterback Jeff Grantz and the Gamecocks would have gone to an even bigger bowl than the Tangerine Bowl, a trip that saw them lose to an excellent Miami (OH) team.

1979: Everyone knows about George Rogers’ 1980 Heisman season, however, he was almost as good in 1979. As the catalyst of the entire offense, Rogers put up over 1800 yards from scrimmage and led Jim Carlen’s Carolina team to the Hall of Fame Classic Bowl where they fell to Missouri. All four Gamecock losses were to top-15 teams.

1988: 1988 was the final leg of the second-ever back-to-back 8-win stretches for the South Carolina football program. After a 6-0 start, however, an inexplicable loss to a bad Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket team derailed things as the Gamecocks only won 2 of their last six games, including a lopsided loss to an inferior Indiana team in the Liberty Bowl in Joe Morrison’s last game before his death. The losing stretch coincided with the publishing of a Sports Illustrated article about alleged (later proven) steroid use in the program.

1994: The high point of a bad decade of Gamecock football, 1994 saw the Gamecocks win the program’s very first bowl game, a Carquest Bowl victory over West Virginia. ’94 was the only year in the ’90s in which the Gamecocks won more than 6 games (7) and the only season they went to a bowl game. Steve Taneyhill had a good season at quarterback, and the combination of Brandon Bennett and Stanley Pritchett in the backfield was an excellent 1-2 punch for the offense. If the ‘Cocks had a more consistent defense that season, Carolina could have made waves in the SEC.

2006: Steve Spurrier’s most unlucky team in Columbia, the 2006 squad faced six different ranked opponents, including three top-10 foes. Two of the unranked opponents were some of the best Kentucky and Houston teams in recent years. Despite rotating quarterbacks, the Gamecocks finished the year on a three-game winning streak (including a win over Clemson and over Houston in the Liberty Bowl), but they were two blocked Ryan Succop kicks away against Florida from also upsetting the eventual national champs in Gainesville.

2014: One of the best offenses in school history, the 2014 version of the Gamecocks was let down by its abysmal defense. On four separate occasions, the Carolina defense blew two-score leads in the second half, losing three times. The offense scored enough for Carolina to win seven games despite never giving up less than 20 points against Power-5 competition.

2017: In contrast with many South Carolina football seasons, 2017 was an extremely fortunate year in Columbia. The Gamecocks led the nation in fumble recoveries, a stat that is usually relatively random from season to season. The schedule was also one of the softest in recent Carolina history as the Gamecocks only played two ranked opponents (they lost both games). The 9 victories are tied for fifth in program history.

2022: The second year of the Shane Beamer era in Columbia saw the Gamecocks improve for the second straight year after Will Muschamp’s tenure ended in a 2-10 disaster. South Carolina did something it had never done before at the end of the year as the Gamecocks beat two top-10 opponents in back-to-back weeks when Carolina upset the Tennessee Volunteers and Clemson Tigers to end the regular season. The 8-win season was a success, despite the team fielding a terrible offense for over half the season.