Scott Davis: The Long Road to September
Columnist Scott Davis, who has followed USC sports for more than 30 years, provides commentary from the perspective of a Gamecocks fan. You can follow Scott on Twitter at @scdonfire.
“April is the cruelest month…” - T.S. Eliot
You think you’ve turned a corner, don’t you?
Spring ball’s come and gone. There’s a whiff of summer lingering in the air. Will Muschamp is hitting the road to meet with Gamecock Club members across the state.
Yes, it won’t be long until we’re all mercifully sitting in Williams-Brice again, getting chill bumps when “2001” starts up, watching the boys in garnet and black.
Or will it?
The fact is, my friends, that this is the most deceptive, most diabolical and most disturbing place on the entire calendar.
Now that we’ve gotten through all the preliminaries for next year and the lingering aftershocks of the last season – recruiting, spring practice, coaching reshuffles, transfers and academic casualties, new depth charts and everything else – we think we’re finally locked in and ready to kick things off within the hour.
The startling truth is this: By my count, we are still 133 days away from our opening game against Vanderbilt on Sept. 1.
One hundred thirty-three days.
That’s almost 37 percent of an entire year.
And that’s how far away we are from football. Uh oh.
You know the cliché, so close and yet so far? Well, we’re not even so close. We are only so far.
So, 133 days. Any idea what happened 137 days ago? Anyone? For starters, Will Muschamp was named the head coach at South Carolina. Think about how long ago that seems. At this point, it feels like Muschamp has been on the job for decades, if not centuries. He’s hired an entire staff, compiled a recruiting class, run a full spring practice and even got his own bus in that time. It’s been so long that I can barely remember what Steve Spurrier’s face looks like.
Think back on that Muschamp press conference, way back there in the distant past. That’s about how far we have to go to get to the next season.
Hang on a second, I may need to go take a quick shot of Jack Daniels if I’m going to keep going.
OK, I’m back.
Remember Christmas 2015? Does that seem like it even happened in your lifetime? That was fewer days ago than the number of days we still have left before football gets here.
I know, I know. It’s all beginning to dawn on you, isn’t it? Take deep breaths. Try not to hyperventilate. We’re going to get through this together.
A hundred and thirty-three days ago, we were just shortly removed from a disappointing loss to Clemson (which also seems like it happened in roughly 1923) and there were still approximately 700 people running for the Republican nomination for president.
We still lived in a world in which Leo DiCaprio had never won an Oscar, for God’s sake.
Oddly enough, you’re better equipped to handle the loss of football immediately after a season ends than you are right now. Once that last game against Clemson comes and goes, you (HOPEFULLY) segue right into bowl practice, then a bowl game. After that, you’ve got a solid six weeks of recruiting sagas and soap operas to follow. Then it’s just a short jaunt from there to spring practice, which fills the time for a few weeks.
From December to April, it almost feels like football is still with us.
But once you get through that spring game and realize you’re staring down the barrel of week after week after ever-loving week of football-free days…well, that’s when the despair settles in.
And that’s why I’m here.
If we’re going to grind through May, and then June, and then July, and then August without turning into an angry, rioting mob that pillages and burns every city in the Palmetto State, then we’ve got to stick together. We’ve got to find some diversions. We’ve got to find some things to keep us distracted. Let’s start with these:
1. Revel in the Ludicrous, Preposterous, Over-the-Top and Yet Deeply Enjoyable Optimism of Spring
I always find myself chuckling each year at the conclusion of spring ball when fans start looking for reasons – any reasons – to feel good about the upcoming campaign. It happens every year, but it really happens any time there’s a coaching change.
The new guys arriving on campus look like program-changers. Any player who changes positions is suddenly an unstoppable force whose otherworldly talents surpass human understanding.
Throughout the practices in March and April, I kept hearing the same murmurs emanating throughout Gamecock Nation: “I’ll tell you what, this coaching staff is bringing an intensity that we just haven’t seen around here.” “Is it me, or do we look stronger and faster?” “I’m hearing the players really struggled with the difficulty of our strength and conditioning workouts – we just haven’t seen the kind of intensity we’re seeing in the weight room right now.” “You just can’t teach the kind of intangibles that Brandon McIlwain brings to the table at quarterback.” And my personal favorite, “It looks like the light bulb’s finally come on for (fill in name of player who’s underperformed thus far in his college career).”
Just once, I’d like for someone to be that optimistic about me: “I know he’s underperformed making dinner every night the last few years, but it looks like the light bulb’s finally come on for Scott Davis in the kitchen this spring.”
And it’s not just us. It’s every fan base of every college in America.
I was driving around Atlanta last Saturday and couldn’t find anything on the radio, which is how I inexplicably found myself listening to the broadcast of Georgia’s spring game. Here are a few gems the announcers dropped during my brief time in the car:
“No disrespect to Mark Richt and his staff, but we just haven’t seen the kind of intensity around Athens that Kirby Smart and his guys have brought to this program.” (NOTE: Richt won 145 games, two SEC titles and six SEC East championships in 14 years at UGA. Smart has never been a head coach).
“I know Lorenzo Carter’s first few years in the program were disappointing, but the light bulb’s finally come on under Kirby Smart this spring.”
“I know Matthew Stafford was the number one pick in the NFL Draft, but I’ve never seen a true freshman quarterback walk on to campus with as much poise, authority and command of the huddle as Jacob Eason has this spring. He just has the look.”
In other words, let’s all drop what we’re doing and head to Vegas to toss our life savings on the Dogs winning it all in 2016!
As my old college roommate says, “Everyone’s undefeated in the spring.”
2. Figure Out Which Non-Muschamp Coach is Our Favorite on this Staff
Vegas set the odds on this way back in December, when it named defensive coordinator Travaris Robinson the 2-1 favorite to become every Gamecock fan’s favorite staff member.
Everyone loves T-Rob.
Recruits swoon over him. Fans are mesmerized by him. Even the other coaches speak of him as though he’s the coolest guy in high school and they want to find a way to join his inner circle so they can be cool by osmosis.
Did you see the video of T-Rob bouncing around practice, bobbing his head to the music and looking like he was having the time of his life? Let’s just say that looked like whatever the exact opposite of a Steve Spurrier practice looked like.
Like Samuel L. Jackson, some people are just bad MF’ers. T-Rob is one of them.
Still, I wouldn’t sleep on defensive line coach Lance Thompson. He has as solid an SEC pedigree as you’ll find. There’s a sort of “likeable tough guy” vibe to him, like Eastwood in his prime. He’s gruff…but you can relate to him! The players all claim to be responding to his teaching (will we finally see the almighty light bulb go on for some of them, thanks to Lance?). Keep your eyes on LT.
And coming in as a solid dark horse pick: Running backs coach Bobby Bentley.
In just a few months on the job, Bentley has hyped the program more on Twitter than the previous coaching staff combined did in six years. He also had the good fortune of being the father of one of the best high school quarterbacks in America. As a result, that quarterback will be forgoing his senior year of high school to join South Carolina’s football team. That’ll work.
3. Decide Whether We Like or Dislike All These New-fangled Methods to Attract the Kids of Today, Such as Garnet Helmets, Gamecock Tailfeather Helmets, #spursup, the Boom Bus and All This Other Stuff That They Didn’t Do Back When Bear Bryant Was Roaming the Sidelines at Bama
This one’s pretty easy for me. I like all this new-fangled stuff. You should, too.
Change is a good thing. Change brought us antibiotics so human beings didn’t die every time we caught a cold.
Change brought us Novocaine so we didn’t feel like we were dying when we went to the dentist.
Change brought HD television instead of radios and VCRs. It brought us the instantaneous ability to find pictures of women wearing bikinis on the Internet instead of waiting around all year for the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition to hit the mailbox. It brought us bacon on top of cheeseburgers.
Change is good.
I know, I know: Tradition, “the way things used to be,” “not how they did it in the days of Vince Dooley and Bo Schembechler,” and blah blah blah-de-frickin-blah.
At one point, the forward pass was illegal in football and dudes were wearing leather helmets and running 8.3 40-yard-dash times.
Change is good. #spursup
OK, I’ve given you enough to think about until, um, tomorrow?
After that, you’re on your own.
For another 132 days and counting.
May the Force be with you.