First off, going 7-6 and winning a bowl game most certainly should have exceeded expectations on the season. With a roster loaded with transfers, and a first year head coach, it’s hard to expect anything less.
However, were Carolina’s wins across the season really as quality as they appear.
In other words, is it safe to assume South Carolina will win most of their toss-up games? They are expected to be much stronger this season, and last season went far better than expected.
I would argue no, because Carolina’s wins mostly came against programs that really looked unimpressive and disappointing by the time the season concluded.
Let’s take a look at each of South Carolina’s wins across the season.
Eastern Illinois 46-0
Almost not even worth mentioning. The Gamecocks shut out one of the worst teams in all of college football, who recorded only two wins in the previous two seasons against other FCS opponents. The Panthers also recorded only one win in 2021 against Tennessee Tech.
Defense played as well as they could have. Offense looked fine. However, the offensive line was pushed around a little more than they should have, which foreshadowed a future issue for matchups to come.
East Carolina 20-17
Personally, I feel that this is the most overlooked win across the 2021 season. Second game of the season and the Gamecocks are forced to play their first legitimate opponent on the road.
Don’t forget the Pirates finished the 2021 season 7-5 with a cancelled bowl game against Boston College.
Prior to last season, ECU had not played in a bowl game since 2014. After their loss to Carolina they stood at 0-2. So it’s easy to assume at first that South Carolina just struggled against a weak opponent.
However, ECU had an impressive season overall. They even had a respectable loss or two on their resume.
South Carolina’s defense really won the game for them, as they played lights out. Offense looked pitiful until around the 4th quarter. No first half points offensively. They finally adjusted in the 4th quarter and were able to set up a game winning field goal. Loads of mistakes were made with several moments of indiscipline play. Officiating certainly did not help cause.
In short, Carolina’s win against ECU was quality, considering all the circumstances. Is it a win fans should brag about? No.
But it is certainly not one they should be disappointed with by any means.
About what you’d expect at this point of the season. A very mediocre win to put it bluntly.
Troy missed bowl eligibility by one game in 2021, although they did finish the season with a few respectable losses. Troy is definitely not a win you want to overlook, but at the same time, not a win you boast either.
Once again, defense was a major factor in Carolina’s win. Offense started out decently, but looked rather weak in the second half. Tons of mistakes were made this game on both ends of the ball. Perhaps more in this game than any others.
This win really teeters the line of bad and just ok. Certainly not quality.
Perhaps the luckiest win of the 2021 season, and it came against the worst SEC opponent on the schedule.
Vanderbilt finished the season 2-10 with a first year head coach. Their only wins came against Colorado State and UConn.
Vanderbilt was a very bad team in 2021 and South Carolina ended up being their closest loss.
Offense was virtually not existent after the first quarter. Up until Zeb Noland came in to save the day with only seconds left. Defense didn’t look great either. Vandy averaged a little under 16 points a game in 2021 (let’s not forget a lot of these points the scored against 2nd and 3rd string defenses), and they scored 20 against Carolina.
Once again, loads of mistakes (almost as many as there was against Troy). Definitely a piss poor performance on both ends of the ball.
Carolina’s matchup against Vanderbilt should definitely be considered embarrassing. However, it is somewhat respectable to get the clutch win with your back up against the wall in the final minutes.
Overall, a big thumbs down.
Carolina’s win against Florida was certainly quality, but would you argue it was more impressive or more unexpected?
Florida started out their season strong, and then took a complete nose dive. After their loss to Carolina, they allowed 52 points against Samford, and barely defeated a weak Florida State team. The Gators were unsure if they would even play in their bowl game.
After deciding to go through with it, they were mopped by one of the weakest UCF teams since 2016 (not counting the 2020 Covid season). Needless to say, Florida looked rather atrocious after their loss to LSU.
In this matchup, South Carolina looked phenomenal on both ends of the football. The offense under Jason Brown looked the best they had all season. The defense allowed a few big plays at first, but then really settled in shortly after.
South Carolina definitely played well against the Gators; however, the Gators simply were not a very good football team. After the mid-way point of the season, Florida looked downright awful in each of their remaining games.
Not to take anything away from the players that evening. They looked great. But, I would argue that Carolina’s win against Florida was more unexpected than impressive. It was certainly a shocking and exciting win, but it was against a bad team.
One of the better wins of the season, and certainly an unexpected one as well. However, Auburn with TJ Finley at QB, really found a way to make every mistake possible. Coaching was very poor as well on their end.
Auburn had a rather up and down season in 2021, that ended more disappointingly than they were expecting. They had wins against Ole Miss and Arkansas, and they took Bama down to four overtimes before losing. They also had a few disappointing losses against Penn State (Penn State was not that impressive), and Mississippi State.
Their final game against Houston was probably the most disappointing, as they blew the game in the final minutes after offensive struggles. Not to mention the Stadium was almost 90% Auburn fans.
Carolina struggled a little in the first half, and made several mistakes on both ends of the football. Half way through it, they settled in and were able to tie the game.
Carolina took advantage of Auburn’s mistakes throughout the end of the first half and the second half of the ball game. As the offense began to slow down near the end of the ball game, the defense stepped up, and made several key stops.
Once again, not to take away from South Carolina’s performance as they played very well. However, this appeared as more of a game Auburn lost than, a game Carolina won.
Auburn made several key mistakes that really boosted South Carolina’s momentum throughout the contest. Had Auburn used Tank Bigsby more (I could write an entire article on why he didn’t get the ball more the entire season), or had Bo Nix been healthy, the result probably could have been different.
Nevertheless, they didn’t. South Carolina wanted the win more. They played with more of a fire, and coaching overall was impeccable.
It is definitely hard not to call Carolina’s win against Auburn quality. On the other hand are they considered a good team?
I would say they were a slightly better football team than Carolina last year, that played a very bad game.
You definitely have to hand it to South Carolina. They exceeded expectations in their bowl game after losing several players, and beat up on a team that appeared much stronger than they were prior to the matchup.
Like Auburn, UNC had a very up and down season. Throughout, they had quality wins and close losses against good opponents. They also lost several games to much weaker opponents.
Perhaps UNC had an issue with overlooking weaker opponents this season?
Carolina really stepped up to the plate offensively. Led by Dakereon Joyner, they looked like they couldn’t be stopped the entire contest. Despite giving up a few big plays, South Carolina took care of the Tar Heels defensively as well.
Not much to say here. Carolina came into the contest as the weaker opponent, and they really came out swinging. The game appeared over early. It was one of, if not the best performance South Carolina put on the entire season.
I would argue it was the most quality win of the season.
After taking a look back, which wins would you consider impressive? Which wins make you say, “South Carolina will be damn good next season.”
UNC and maybe Auburn. So… 2 games. (I’m not gonna count ECU here).
With the rundown of this season in mind, I find it a little absurd to just assume that South Carolina is gonna come out and win 8 games this season. It isn’t impossible, but it most definitely should not be the expectation.
Let’s face it, South Carolina is facing a much tougher schedule this season. Regardless of the strength of South Carolina’s roster, I would not consider another 6 win season a step back.
Last season appeared more as a season where Carolina took advantage of weaker opponents; and mistakes made by their opponents. This season, the Gamecocks won’t have as many opportunities to take care of weaker teams.
Even several of the “should win” games do not look like guaranteed wins.
Will the Gamecocks be a better team in 2022? I certainly believe so. Does that mean they win more games? Not exactly.
Although I along with other fans am hoping for the absolute best this season, we cannot keep our expectations too high. Our schedule will be much tougher than last season. So, as the team improves, there still remains a possibility that the record could looks similar to last season.