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January 2, 2014

Blog: The Day After

ORLANDO, Fla. - Here's something that should come as no surprise: Steve Spurrier was right.

Of the many things I could be referring to, in this case I'm talking about his reference to just how eerily similar the last three seasons have been to one another.

A year ago I was sitting in Tampa on the heels of a star-studded, big-play filled Outback Bowl and marveling how for the second year in a row the Gamecocks were going to finish in the Top 10 (No. 9 in 2011, No. 8 in 2012) after a New Year's Day bowl win over a tradition-rich Big Ten powerhouse having chalked 11 more wins in the school's books.

Today, sitting in a hotel room in Florida

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once again on the heels of an 11-win season, Capital One Bowl win over a Wisconsin team that featured 22 seniors who had won three consecutive Big Ten titles and were a spectacularly bad officiating call away from a 10-win regular season.

This script even followed the same pattern - an underclassman at receiver (two, actually) had a monster day (Bruce Ellington and Shaq Roland, where it was Ace Sanders in 2012 and Alshon Jeffery in 2011), the running game was largely absent, a defensive leader had a monster, game-changing hit (thank you, Victor Hampton) and there was a score by the special teams (OK, it was Wisconsin, but still).

Eerie. In the best possible way.

The only difference, really, was Connor Shaw. He was terrific in the 2011 and 2012 bowl games, but his 2013 Capital One Bowl was a career highlight - the first time all season he's thrown for 300-plus yards, first time in his career he caught a touchdown and the first time he was named MVP of the bowl game after accounting for five touchdowns.

On Wednesday an entire nation got to watch what South Carolina fans have been privileged to witness over Shaw's entire career, one whose record now finally stands at 27-5 and 18-0 at Williams-Brice Stadium - a skilled warrior whose will to win is second to none. On a field with NFL players scattered on both sidelines, Shaw was the game's best player and everyone, including Wisconsin, knew it. It's too bad that so few nationally appreciated the skill set of Shaw over his career or even his stunningly effective senior year that was as good, if not better, statistically than Heisman finalist A.J. McCarron's.

But what's done is done, and Shaw had the last laugh on his detractors Wednesday with a bowl performance that should stand as one of the best of this entire bowl season. Make no mistake, Wisconsin was a veteran team with offensive and defensive units ranked in the top 10 nationally and featuring two 1,000-yard rushers and a receiver who finished a heartbreaking one catch shy of breaking the school's all-time receiving record. They were good, very good, and that's that.

So on the day after, take a moment to soak in these heady waters - 33 wins in three years to just six losses, an historic winning streak against Clemson (who Spurrier also found time to needle yesterday), bowl wins over some of the biggest names in college football history and a player in Shaw who will forever be remembered as a warrior with a lion's heart, a gazelle's legs and an indomitable spirit - in short, as a Gamecock.

Sometimes, it sure is nice to do the same thing over and over again, especially when doing so means the Gamecock football program is nationally elite and the best it's ever been.

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