South Carolina won 10 games for only the second time in school history and snagged an invite to the prestigious Capital One Bowl despite losing veteran quarterback Stephen Garcia, All-SEC running back Marcus Lattimore and reliable left tackle Kyle Nunn during the season. As the 10th-ranked Gamecocks prepare for their Jan. 2 date with No. 21 Nebraska, here's a look back at the five biggest moments in USC's amazing season:
1. Shaw shines
There was no intercollegiate evidence Connor Shaw would go 6-1 as a starting QB down the stretch of USC's fragile season. But the resourceful sophomore threw for 311 yards and four TDs in a 54-3 rout of Kentucky a few days after coach Steve Spurrier benched Garcia, and a few days before Garcia was dismissed.
"I think the team rallied around me a little bit," Shaw said.
Shaw with the Kentucky jump-start went from suspect to solid, if not spectacular.
2. The Ingram Show
Teammates have long respected the running, throwing and punting -- yes, punting -- abilities Melvin Ingram displays in practice. The college football world got a long look Sept. 10 when the senior defensive end ran 68 yards for a touchdown on a fake punt and scored again on a 5-yard fumble return during a 45-42 win at Georgia.
The 6-2, 267-pound Ingram's thoughts on an attempted tackle by Georgia punt returner Brandon Boykin during the first touchdown: "Why was a little guy like that trying to tackle me?"
Ingram this week was named a first-team Associated Press All-American.
The key play in USC's 34-13 win over Clemson was Shaw's 15-yard touchdown run from a basic zone-read play on third-and-5. It snapped a 10-10 tie late in the second quarter after momentum had turned orange.
"I knew coming into this game that Clemson had struggled stopping running quarterbacks," said Shaw, who rushed for 107 yards against the Tigers. "When I saw routes weren't opening and that they were turning their backs to me, I'd take off."
A third straight win over the Tigers was an early holiday present for all Gamecock fans.
4. Garcia's mad dash
Garcia deserves some credit, certainly for the 56-37 win over East Carolina in the season opener at Charlotte. Down 17-0 in the second quarter, Garcia replaced a struggling Shaw and ignited a rally with a 32-yard touchdown run.
"He cleaned up today, shaved his beard and decided to act like a quarterback," Spurrier said.
Garcia didn't last the season, but after East Carolina, and with the exception of Arkansas, deficits didn't frighten the Gamecocks.
5. Running Wilds
In South Carolina's first game without Lattimore, freshman Brandon Wilds ran for 137 yards in a 14-3 victory at Tennessee. The Oct. 29 triumph left the Gamecocks 7-1.
"We ran the ball well and gained a bunch of yards," Spurrier said. "Not bad for a guy making his first start."
Wilds didn't play much against Clemson but, with help from his friends, showed there was ground-game hope beyond Lattimore.
Reach Gene Sapakoff at 937-5593 or on Twitter at @sapakoff
First-team All-American Melvin Ingram of USC.×
Shaw’s TD run on 3rd-and-5 versus Clemson.×
Garcia’s TD run sparks USC in season opener.×
Brandon Wilds has a big game versus Tennessee.×