Originally created 10/14/00

Gamecocks may be most improved



Lou Holtz was speaking to a media gathering during the summer, assessing the damage from last season's 0-11 train wreck and wondering what, if anything, might possibly go right in 2000.

"We've got problems, make no mistake about it," Holtz said at the Southeastern Conference Media Days in Birmingham, Ala. "Hold the presses! I've got a scoop! South Carolina has got problems!

"But," he added, "it isn't anything that can't be solved. And we could surprise people this year, we really could."

Some three months, five wins and a national ranking later, are there any questions? Holtz, the frail 63-year-old Gamecocks head coach known for restoring tattered programs, is putting another notch into his ever-expanding belt at South Carolina, which plays host to Arkansas today at Williams-Brice Stadium (12:30 p.m., CBS).

With a victory today, the No. 24 Gamecocks (5-1, 3-1 SEC) will qualify for their first bowl appearance since 1995. And they'll take another step toward becoming one of the most improved teams in the history of the SEC and college football.

In other local games, No. 14 Georgia plays host to Vanderbilt at 1 p.m., and Maryland travels to No. 5 Clemson (6 p.m., ESPN2). Georgia Tech plays host to Wake Forest (noon, Fox/SS), and Georgia Southern, No. 1 in Division I-AA, has a showdown with visiting Appalachian State (3:30 p.m., Comcast).

Since the SEC's inception in 1933, 10 teams have posted winless seasons, and South Carolina's 1999 debacle is one of them. Of the nine teams that did it before South Carolina, just two recovered to earn a winning record the next year.

Kentucky went 0-10-1 (0-6 SEC) in 1982, then put things together to go 6-4-1 (2-4) in 1983. Florida, 0-10-1 in 1979, came back with a 7-4 season in 1980 -- the most improvement from a winless season in the SEC.

With at least three wins in their remaining five games, the Gamecocks will leap past the Gators and become most impressive rags-to-riches revival in conference history.

South Carolina also has an opportunity to move onto the list of most improved teams in college football.

Last season, Hawaii had the most improved season in history, jumping from 0-11 in 1998 to 9-4 under former Atlanta Falcons coach June Jones.

The Gamecocks are in position to match or supplant the Rainbows as the all-time most improved team. If South Carolina finishes 9-3 (including a bowl), it will have improved by 8.5 games, which would equal Hawaii's leap last season. The Gamecocks will have to finish 10-2 or better to become the most improved team in college-football history.

If the Gamecocks go 7-5, they will have tied nine teams for fourth on the most-improved list. And if they win today, they'll qualify for the postseason -- something Holtz has done at his previous rebuilding projects at William & Mary, North Carolina State, Arkansas, Minnesota and Notre Dame.

Center Scott Browne said bowl bids and accolades are fun to talk about, but the Gamecocks have to worry about taking care of business first.

"We know where we stand -- we're 5-1," the fifth-year senior said. "But that's down the road. That's something you've got to look to in the weeks to come. It's the middle of the season. We're not ready yet to think about those kind of things."

GEORGIA FANS ARE thinking SEC Championship after the No. 14 Bulldogs' resounding 21-10 win over Tennessee last week, but Georgia coach Jim Donnan said he knows his team must win today and next week at Kentucky (12:30 p.m., CBS) to make the Oct. 28 date with Florida in Jacksonville a true showdown.

Donnan invoked the bitter memory of his team's Sept. 9 loss at South Carolina as reason Georgia will be up for the Commodores and Wildcats.

"We understand what happened to us the second game of the year," he said.

Clemson coach Tommy Bowden is equally reflective when sizing up Maryland. Last season, Terrapins running back LaMont Jordan rushed for 177 yards and four touchdowns before the Tigers escaped, 42-30.

"They gave us a lot of problems last year," Bowden said.

Reach Larry Williams at (706) 823-3645.

Of the 10 SEC teams that have gone winless since the conference's inception in 1933, just two have rebounded the next year to post winning records. With a victory today over Arkansas, South Carolina (5-1, 3-1 SEC) could be the third.

Sewanee: 1936 -- 0-6-1 (0-5); 1937 -- 2-7 (0-6 SEC)

Florida: 1946 -- 0-9 (0-5); 1947 -- 4-5-1 (0-3-1)

Mississippi State: 1949 -- 0-8-1 (0-6); 1950 -- 4-5 (3-4)

Auburn: 1950 -- 0-10 (0-7); 1951 -- 5-5 (3-4)

Alabama: 1955 -- 0-10 (0-7); 1956 -- 2-7-1 (2-5)

Tulane: 1962 -- 0-10 (0-7); 1963 -- 1-8-1 (0-6-1)

Mississippi State: 1968 -- 0-8-2 (0-4-2); 1969 -- 3-7 (0-5)

Florida: 1979 -- 0-10-1 (0-6); 1980 -- 7-4 (4-2)

Kentucky: 1982 -- 0-10-1 (0-6); 1983 -- 6-4-1 (2-4)

South Carolina: 1999 -- 0-11 (0-8); 2000 -- 5-1, (3-1)

Note: Winless seasons don't include those incurred by probation.