COLUMBIA -- It has been a while -- Sept. 5, 1998, to be precise -- since South Carolina's football team won a game.
So it could have been considered a victory in and of itself that the Gamecocks were forecast as favorites by oddsmakers to win Saturday's game against visiting New Mexico State by more than a touchdown.
"I'm very surprised," said defensive tackle Cleveland Pinkney, whose team is an eight-point favorite for Saturday's 7 p.m. game at Williams-Brice Stadium. "Somebody out there likes us. Somebody out there cares about us now. It definitely surprised me that we are eight point favorites. When they told me that, I was like `Oh, my goodness.' "
Being accorded favored status would warrant little more than passing mention at many schools. But at South Carolina, whose recent past is decidedly unfavorable, this is good news.
The Gamecocks were 0-11 last season and have lost 21 straight games, the longest streak in Division I-A. Their offense scored fewer than eight points per game last year, and there are few indications that second-year coach Lou Holtz will orchestrate a dramatic turnaround this season.
"We all felt like we would be underdogs, we really did, because of our record and our streak and stuff," said Gamecocks quarterback Phil Petty.
Astute gamblers would be unwise to bet the farm on the Gamecocks, whose last victory was a 38-20 win over Ball State in the 1998 opener.
What's more, the Aggies have reason to be feared. The Big West conference members finished 6-5 last year and appear on the rise under fourth-year coach Tony Samuel, a former player and coach at Nebraska whose team's record has improved in each of his three seasons in Las Cruces, N.M.
The Aggies return a big offensive line, their top six rushers and a solid secondary from a team that won 35-7 at then-No. 22 Arizona State.
Quarterback K.C. Enzminger, whom Holtz compared to Virginia Tech star Michael Vick, threw for 1,878 yards and ran for 358 last season.
Still, Holtz appears as confident in his team as he has been since he took over in December of 1998. The 63-year-old said he is impressed with the Gamecocks' effort, fundamentals and togetherness, and he added that his team enters Saturday's game "probably healthier than we have been all fall."
"I know we don't have a lot of respect around the country," Holtz said. " I understand that. But that isn't going to last. (The streak) is going to come to an end. I just can't tell you when, but that sucker is going to come to an end. I think our players are just as tired of it as I am."
NOTES: As of Monday afternoon, 1,000 tickets remained for Saturday's game. For more information, call the Gamecocks ticket office at 1-800-472-3267 ... Holtz said defensive tackle Anthony Overstreet (testicular surgery) and quarterback Dondrial Pinkins (sprained knee) will miss Saturday's game. "When we'll get Dondrial back I don't know," Holtz said. "Initially, they told me he'd be back in three weeks. But we're going on three weeks now. His leg is still in a cast, so I can't tell you when we will get him back." Holtz said junior Kevin House will start at left cornerback. ... North Augusta's Brian Elam is listed at second-string right cornerback.
Reach Larry Williams at (706) 823-3645.