COLUMBIA - Steve Spurrier calls them "identical years."
In reality, South Carolina's past three football seasons have been a crescendo, at least in the national polls.
The Gamecocks have finished in the top 10 three straight years, ranked No. 9 in the final poll of 2011 and No. 8 in 2012. In 2013, they took one more step, breaking into the top five for the first time at No. 4.
Like rungs up a ladder, these are important steps for a football program growing in stature and prestige.
"We appreciate it, but we know we had really the same year," Spurrier said. "It's nice to be No. 4, I guess. It's a little nicer. Hopefully we can do a little better next year."
As simple math goes, it's hard to be better than No. 4. Numerically, only three spots qualify. If South Carolina finishes No. 4 next season - the first with a playoff system - it will play for the right to go to the national championship game.
Beyond rankings, there are goals left for the Gamecocks to achieve. Spurrier routinely talks about bringing an SEC title to the Palmetto state. South Carolina was one heartbreaking field goal at Tennessee from playing for the conference championship this past fall.
Instead, for the third straight season, the Gamecocks missed the SEC Championship Game.
It won't be easy for South Carolina to maintain the success from its "identical years." The Gamecocks must replace Connor Shaw, their all-time winningest quarterback. They'll also see a handful of key underclassmen leave early for the NFL, a group highlighted by defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.
Regardless, Spurrier has a simple blueprint for how to ensure more success in 2014.
"Just keep doing what we've been doing," he said.
It will be a process this offseason for South Carolina to stay on its recent path. Several items must be taken care of to ensure continued success.
Perhaps the two most important pieces have been handled. The university increased its commitment to football, handing Spurrier and his assistants raises and contract extensions last week. For the first time since Spurrier came to South Carolina before the 2005 season, the Gamecocks should retain their assistant coaching staff.
"When you're successful, there's a lot of money in college football," Spurrier said. "We're still not giving it to the players, which I wish we would. So I guess they give it to the coaches. . We hope to keep doing this for several more years - many more years."
Spurrier also addressed South Carolina's most critical personnel decision of the offseason, naming Dylan Thompson the starting quarterback to replace Shaw. Behind Thompson, there will be a competition for backup.
The Gamecocks' work is far from finished this offseason. They must rebuild their defensive line, and find adequate cornerbacks to defend the pass. Someone will need to replace Bruce Ellington as No. 1 receiver on offense. Spurrier also said he expects more from his offensive line.
There are enough pieces returning, enough reasons to believe South Carolina's success can continue. Or, as Spurrier hinted, do a little better next year.
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