Sapakoff: One more shiny goal for Gamecocks' seniors
ORLANDO, Fla. - As Steve Spurrier walked into the lobby of the Hyatt Regency for a Capital One Bowl press conference Tuesday, he recalled the same drill two years ago. The Nebraska equipment van was parked outside and covered with red signage.
"They had listed all their conference championships," South Carolina's head coach said. "I think there were 42 of them, and they listed the years of their national championships and there were seven of those. I told our guys we were only 48 behind those guys right now in conference and national championships."
Progress in the college football tradition biz comes in small steps. Most of South Carolina's have been taken over the last four years.
It might rain a bit Wednesday at Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium when the No. 8 Gamecocks take on No. 19 Wisconsin, but Gamecock seniors have a permanent place in the sun.
It's a small group, four starters and zero second-team players. But quarterback Connor Shaw, right guard Ronald Patrick, defensive end Chaz Sutton and cornerback Jimmy Legree are tied to bigger numbers:
A 41-11 record over the last four seasons entering the Capital One Bowl.
Three of South Carolina's four seasons with double-digit win totals.
Two of the Gamecocks' six bowl wins.
The bulk of a five-game win streak against Clemson.
The 2010 SEC East title.
One more goal: "To go in and dominate and have a great game," Sutton said. "That's what we came here for."
Sutton and the other seniors know the Gamecocks have a chance to win three bowl games in a row for the first time.
"You're only as good as your last game," Patrick said.
Better than that, in this case.
Shaw deservedly gets most of the attention. But the other three guys have been impactful, too, on and off the field. Legree, Sutton and Patrick already have their college degrees.
Patrick missed only one game over the last two seasons, this year's loss at Tennessee. Too bad he didn't redshirt in 2010 when his few snaps were spread over games against Southern Miss, Arkansas and Troy.
"Ronald would probably like to have another year back; he didn't play much that first year and we'd like to have him back," assistant coach Steve Spurrier Jr. said. "(But) he's been involved in some great football."
Most of it with his backside to Shaw.
"What Connor's done and how he's done it - the games he's won, the win streak at home - we will miss him," Spurrier Jr. said. "It's amazing what he's done here, and just his personality and what he's meant to this team."
Legree, a Beaufort High School graduate, found his niche at corner after struggles at safety.
Sutton is a team captain, a weight room standout and one of the stars of the Clemson game last month.
"Chaz and Jimmy have been good leaders for us the entire season," defensive coordinator Whammy Ward said. "Chaz is not a vocal leader and Jimmy is not a vocal leader, but they've been two guys who have been playing really consistently for us. You really appreciate what they've done here in their time at South Carolina."
The Gamecocks still own only one conference title, an ACC crown earned in 1969. But that Nebraska equipment van left the Capital One Bowl two years ago with a sad driver following South Carolina's 30-13 win. It's parked in a less glamorous spot at the Gator Bowl this week.
The next South Carolina senior class has a good shot at setting a new school record for wins over a four-year stretch. That's partly thanks to Shaw, Patrick, Legree and Sutton, who go out shining even if it's cloudy.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff.