Gamecock Football History; The Lou Holtz Era

Gamecock football history
South Carolina coach Lou Holtz walks the sideline against Ohio State in the Outback Bowl at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. USC won 31-28. DIGITAL IMAGE. Mandatory Credit: Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Twenty years ago, Gamecock football history was at its lowest point. The next few seasons would change things forever. South Carolina entered the 2000 season with just one win over the previous two campaigns and riding an embarrassing 21 game losing streak. Coach Lou Holtz was beginning his second season at the helm of the program. He was looking to bring some much-needed respect and pride back to the garnet and black. The 2000 team would shock the college football world as they changed the course of Gamecock football history.

Changing Gamecock Football History; The Lou Holtz Era

Before the 2000 season began, South Carolina had one bowl win in the program’s history. They had not yet enjoyed a winning record in SEC play through eight seasons in the league. Up to that point, both fans and pundits were right to wonder if South Carolina’s move to the powerful SEC was the right thing to do. The school had found success in other sports, namely the tradition-rich baseball program and capturing the 1997 SEC men’s basketball title. However, Gamecock football history had shown little in eight years that proved it could compete on the gridiron. That narrative began to change during the 2000 season.

Breaking The Streak

South Carolina opened the season with a resounding 31-0 victory over New Mexico State. The game was not perfect by any means, but it ended the futility endured in the two previous seasons. Despite going 0-11 in his first year, Holtz had brought both credibility and stability to the program. His first season saw major improvements in attitude, discipline, and effort. The results on the scoreboard didn’t show the progress, but it was there. The 1999 team was ravaged by injuries on the offensive side of the ball, using 17 different offensive linemen, and having five different guys take snaps at quarterback. The season-opening victory over the Aggies helped put all that misery behind them. It was the first brick in the foundation that the rebuilding of this program was built on.

Building From The Ground Up

While the Steve Spurrier era saw the greatest heights in program history, it was the Holtz era that made it possible. In particular, the 2000 and 2001 seasons, which helped change the course of Gamecock football history. Those back to back winning seasons, both capped with bowl victories over national power Ohio State, showed that it was possible for this program to compete in the SEC. South Carolina followed up the season-opening week win with an upset over the Georgia Bulldogs and began the season 7-1. They finished with the school’s first winning record in conference play since joining the league in 1992. The following season they again went 5-3 in SEC play and ended the year with a win over rival Clemson at Williams-Brice Stadium.

The quality of players in garnet and black was better, the performances were better, and the belief was tangible. The Gamecocks had great players throughout their history, most notably George Rogers, Sterling Sharpe, Duce Staley, and John Abraham. They had never had a collection of good players on the same team. That began to change under Holtz. The 2000 squad had six players on defense alone that went on to successful NFL careers. In their ninth season in the league, the Gamecocks finally showed they could in fact build a roster capable of competing in the SEC.

The Good, Bad, And Ugly

The Holtz era didn’t result in any championships, but the impact on Gamecock football history was still immense. Reaching and winning back to back bowls was a foreign concept to this program and its fans before the year 2000. In the first two seasons at the turn of the century, South Carolina totaled 10 SEC wins. This is after only having 18 conference victories in the eight seasons prior. The next two seasons didn’t go nearly as well. The Gamecocks struggled to find consistency and finished both years at 5-7 overall. In the 2004 season, the team got back to winning ways with a 6-5 record. Unfortunately, that campaign and the Holtz era ended with the brawl in the rivalry game against Clemson. That ugly incident is still a black eye for both schools. It also prevented Coach Holtz from reaching his third bowl game at South Carolina.

The success the Gameciocks enjoyed between 2010-14 remains the benchmark for this program. Those seasons wouldn’t have been possible without the foundations laid by  Holtz. The 2000 and 2001 teams have never been as highly regarded as they should be. While they weren’t the best teams in school history, the argument can be made they are the most important. The program was at its lowest point as the 21st century began, and those teams brought hope and belief back to fans and players alike.

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