GAINESVILLE FL - NOVEMBER 13: Josh Dickerson #41 and Antonio Allen #26 of the South Carolina Gamecocks knock down quarterback John Brantley #12 of the Florida Gators during a game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on November 13 2010 in Gainesville Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
The defending SEC East Champion South Carolina Gamecocks had beaten the Gators three times by a combined score of 26-0 before Steve Spurrier took over the football program from Lou Holtz. The Gators, by contrast, had beaten the Gamecocks 19 times by an average score of 26-11, and had never lost in Gainesville or as a conference opponent*. Suddenly, though, with the addition of the Florida's first Heisman winner, this rivalry sparked to life.
The University of South Carolina is located on 359 acres near the statehouse in Columbia. Founded in 1801, it's location was selected to try to bridge the widening differences between the Lowcountry and the Upstate. Despite a low enrollment early on, by the start of the Civil War it had earned a reputation as one of the better institutions in the South. Closure due to the Civil War, followed by a tumultuous Reconstruction led to a decline in enrollment and prestige, but today, the university is ranked 111 by US News and World Report. An attempt was made to relocate the campus in the 1920's, but alumni opposition kept it on its historic, antebellum, urban site.
Williams-Brice Stadium is located a mile from campus, adjacent to the state fairgrounds. Built around the same time as Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, it's been expanded to seat 85,000. The Gamecocks first fielded a football team in 1892, and have won one conference championship (ACC 1969), one divisional title (SEC East, 2010), and have amassed a 4-11 bowl record. Despite a history of mediocrity spanning three conferences, USC has a rabid and knowledgeable fan base.
When the Gamecocks joined the SEC in 1992, they had beaten the Gators three times, all shutouts (13-0 in 1913, 7-0 in 1936, and 6-0 in 1939), all in Columbia. Other than those losses and three ties, the Gators owned the series. Even after the two schools became conference mates Florida won the first 13 meetings by an average of 39-16. Then the Gamecocks hired a new coach, with a history of turning around underperformed college football programs. Stephen Orr Spurrier was a familiar face to Florida fans, when he became the Gamecocks head coach, having won the 1966 Heisman Trophy as a player, then leading the Gators to five SEC titles and a National Championship as their head coach before leaving for the NFL.
Some Florida fans even wanted him to return after Ron Zook was fired. In his first meeting with his Alma mater he dealt the Gators a 30-22 loss. If it wasn't upsetting enough to see one of the most beloved figures in Gator history at the helm of another college program, leading a divisional rival to an upset victory over Florida was maddening. His blowout victory in Gainesville last season to win the Eastern division title may have bumped the burgeoning South Carolina rivalry up several notches in the minds of the Florida faithful.
Despite wins book-ending the Urban Meyer era at Florida, the Gamecocks have not had much success versus the Gators. While there have occasionally been close games (2006, 2003), most of the games have been decisive Gator victories. (19 of 23 Gator wins were by 10 points or more.) six of South Carolina's eight non-losses came before 1940. After joining the conference the Gamecocks had some success versus the rest of SEC East, while the Gators welcomed them with 13 straight beat-downs.
It goes without saying that this rivalry, while new, is important for winning the division and conference championships, but with a Gator legend leading the Gamecocks it takes on a special meaning for Florida fans. While it is heartbreaking to see the Gators lose, seeing the loss come at the hands of Steve Spurrier make it especially gut wrenching. Florida and South Carolina don't have a natural geographic or historic rivalry, but they are linked by a coach, and a mutual hatred of Georgia. It has yet to be seen whether this rivalry will continue to build, or revert to its historic pattern, but as long as Steve Spurrier is donning garnet and black this game will continue to be important to Gators old and new.
*As members of the Southern Conference, Florida and South Carolina played to a 6-6 tie in 1931, but Florida won every other conference meeting prior to 2005.