ORLANDO, Fla. - Perspective came in an early December conversation Steve Spurrier had with his former defensive coordinator, Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops.
The two men, titans of the football coaching profession, understand the pressures of their job as well as anyone. The pedestal builds over time, as winning seasons create tradition that becomes expectation. Suddenly, what used to be acceptable no longer is, the line between success and failure always rising.
"I was talking to Bobby Stoops about that the other day," Spurrier said before South Carolina's trip to the Capital One Bowl. "Because obviously a school like Oklahoma, if they don't win 10 games in a year they aren't doing very well at all, and the coach catches a lot of heat for it. Now that we have won 10 and 11, if we slip back to 7-5 or something like that, then you are going to get criticized.
"That is part of the game and how life is. We have eased our way up there and are still there right now. Hopefully we can stay up there for quite a while."
As South Carolina begins its offseason, that is the goal. These past three years have been so good for the Gamecocks - arguably their best three seasons in succession - they changed the perspective of a once-dormant program. South Carolina has undergone a facelift, suddenly much more attractive to the public's eye.
Perhaps most impressive is the Gamecocks' consistency over the past three years. The Gatorade shower was still fresh following South Carolina's 34-24 win against Wisconsin when Spurrier found a moment to reflect.
"In all Gamecock life, we've never had three years identical," Spurrier said. "I mean, think about it: 6-2 in the conference, 11-2, win a bowl game, beat Clemson in all three. They're identical years, almost.
"It's been amazing. It's been a wonderful time for all of us."
It won't be easy for South Carolina to meet its new expectations.
The Gamecocks have a lot of talent coming back, especially at running back (Mike Davis), linebacker (Skai Moore, T.J. Holloman, Kaiwan Lewis) and offensive line (A.J. Cann, Corey Robinson, Brandon Shell). Yet, they must replace two All-Americans on their defensive line (Jadeveon Clowney, Kelcy Quarles), their top receiver (Bruce Ellington) and two starting cornerbacks (Jimmy Legree, Victor Hampton).
Then there's the task of replacing senior quarterback Connor Shaw. Backup Dylan Thompson is more capable than most, with a road win at Clemson and - for all practical purposes - a victory in the Outback Bowl under his belt. Still, ask any quarterback the difficulty of replacing a legend.
Shaw became the face of South Carolina football, his toughness rubbing off on teammates and molding the team's identity. When it came time to say goodbye to his program following the Capital One Bowl, the emotions rushed all at once.
"Yeah, it was definitely difficult to hold it back once I got in the locker room," Shaw said. "My brothers came up and hugged me, the coaches, and it was a very emotional moment. But I couldn't imagine a better way to go out."
Before the Capital One Bowl, Spurrier admitted South Carolina's history "hasn't been all that super-duper." The cast responsible for its changing fortunes just exited stage right. They'll be replaced by a new set of characters next season.
Will the show go on?
Throughout the upcoming offseason, that's the debate. One thing is certain. Now that the expectations have risen, the critics will critique on a harsher curve.
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