COLUMBIA -- Mississippi might have been the worst No. 4-ranked college football team in poll history, though the Rebels are probably at least the fourth-best team in the state of Mississippi.

It was not even close to a sellout, though a hundred thousand more Gamecocks fans will swear they were at Williams-Brice Stadium to see South Carolina's first-ever home win over a top 5 opponent.

But this is Steve Spurrier's best South Carolina team and the soon-to-be-ranked Gamecocks proved it Thursday night with a 16-10 Southeastern Conference win.

"Our fans needed this one," Spurrier said, "as well as all of us."

C'mon, now.

Admit it.

Faster than Dexter McCluster, you were about to concede heartbreak as Mississippi started to rally. Suddenly in the fourth quarter it looked like a new Ole Miss and the same ol' Gamecocks collapse.

"We're happy," Spurrier said. "We got a long way to go, especially on our offensive bunch. But we're excited."

Gamecocks fans know all too well how a seemingly nice season can go in the tank as the mornings get chillier.

'Biggest ... forever'

But with a 3-1 record, two mild upsets (N.C. State, too) and a close loss at Georgia in the first four games, this season just looks a little different.

It's not just the garnet pants the South Carolina players wore Thursday night.

For large parts of the game, quarterback Stephen Garcia outplayed well-regarded NFL draft prospect Jevan Snead, mostly with quicker feet that made a huge difference.

"It might have been the biggest win here forever," Garcia said. "I'm not sure of the tradition here."

Linebacker Eric Norwood might go down as USC's best player on defense. Ever.

Redshirt freshman wide receiver Tori Gurley is a talent in the Sidney Rice/Kenny McKinley line.

The students in the north end zone stands bounced around all night. They were school-record loud.

Dr. Lou Holtz picked South Carolina to win early Thursday evening, and was not exactly going out on a limb. But these Gamecocks have a chance to wind up as the program's most successful team since the Holtz-led 2001 edition went 9-3 overall, 5-3 in the SEC, defeated Clemson, won the Outback Bowl and outscored its foes by almost 100 points.

The concerns

What a wacky business, the No. 4 team in all the land barely favored over a South Carolina team unranked and not receiving much national consideration.

But it's more about the silliness of preseason rankings.

Since when did pummeling Memphis and Southeastern Louisiana merit a No. 4 ranking?

Below the AP Top Four there are several teams -- Southern California, Penn State, Miami, LSU -- that would have entered a Thursday night game at South Carolina with a wider point spread advantage.

"Ole Miss is a good team," Spurrier said. "But it's early in the year."

The backstretch of the schedule remains a briar patch.

Unfortunately, the play in which a Gurley touchdown catch is called back has become a regular part of the Gamecocks offense.

Blocking breaks down way too often.

Maybe someone on the South Carolina coaching staff should have suggested going for a two-point conversion after the Gamecocks' last touchdown. That non-call almost came back to bite.

But as long as defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson has guys like Norwood, Cliff Matthews, Darian Stewart, Chris Culliver, Stephon Gilmore, Devin Taylor ...

See?

Too many big-play players to mention. That should keep South Carolina close in every game, maybe even against Florida.

Reach Gene Sapakoff at gsapakoff@postandcourier.com or 937-5593.