It’s the most wonderful time of the year.
Unless you’re a fan of University of South Carolina football – or men’s basketball or baseball. In that case, it’s wonderful and annoying, another December full of Clemson football images on ESPN and orange car flags that join cookie exchanges, nativity scenes and “Elf” as Palmetto State holiday traditions.
That lukewarm hot chocolate is not your imagination. What feels like the low point of Gamecock fandom is confirmed in an advanced misery index study and enhanced by technology.
This is the worst confluence of South Carolina football, men’s basketball and baseball in modern history and it’s contrasted with Clemson’s greatest football glory.
Coaches are on the hot seat. Such unprecedented glumness and anger from customers will also cost athletic director Ray Tanner, school president Bob Caslen and board of trustees members their jobs if fixable things don’t get fixed real soon.
When Thomas Paine wrote “These are the times that try men’s souls” to start his “American Crisis” essays in December, 1776, he was beating the drum for a revolution.
But the British weren’t as formidable as Clemson.
And the Gamecocks try the souls of women and children, too.
South Carolina’s combined misery index is a crisis, indeed:
Misery: Will Muschamp’s 4-8 finish in 2019 is the worst record for a South Carolina head football coach not in his first season (thus no “cupboard was bare” excuses) that was retained for another year since Sparky Woods returned after going 3-6-2 in 1991.
Chances of quick improvement: A 6-6 record is there for the taking in 2020. But is 6-6 “improvement” enough?
Solution: A winning season or else.
Misery: The Gamecocks have been to the NCAA Tournament just once in the last 15 seasons, which makes any football slump seem like a blink. March Madness traditionally has meant little in Columbia, where South Carolina reached The Big Dance just once between 1974 (the end of the brief Frank McGuire glory era) and 1997 (Eddie Fogler’s SEC championship season) but it’s hard to have such a bad luck streak.
Chances of quick improvement: Better than 50-50. Of course, Sindarius Thornwell, PJ Dozier and friends went all the way to the Final Four in 2017; Frank Martin has four of South Carolina’s six NCAA Tournament wins (not counting old-school consolation games). That Final Four run gives Martin the benefit of the doubt, for now.
Solution: Clear progress within an SEC that the 2017 Gamecocks inspired to get better.
Misery: Missed the NCAA Tournament three times over the last five years (2015, 2017, 2019). That’s the worst stretch since 1994-1997, the start of which forced June Raines out and brought Ray Tanner in as head coach.
Chances of quick improvement: Excellent. Mark Kingston’s rebuild started with a Super Regional in 2018 and is bolstered by a stellar 2019 recruiting class.
Solution: NCAA Tournament in 2020, Regional host by 2021
Misery: Two of the last three national championships and five straight College Football Playoff appearances. And the Tigers' 2020 recruiting class might wind up ranked No. 1.
Chances of quick collapse: None in the short-term, 1.4 percent as long as Dabo Swinney remains head coach.
Solution: Embrace the positives, such as the boost to South Carolina’s strength-of-schedule and the fact many Clemson fans can’t afford nice summer vacations because they go on so many bowl trips.
Social media certainly adds pain Thomas Paine never knew.
It wasn’t fun being a Gamecock fan when Clemson was celebrating its first football national title in 1981. The next year featured Richard Bell’s one-season stint as South Carolina head football coach, a 4-7 debacle that included a loss to Furman.
There was no such thing as Twitter back then.
The 1990s weren’t much garnet fun, a decade of seven losing football seasons with Clemson still better in baseball.
But there were no needling Facebook posts from friends and relatives (partly because Clemson fired Ken Hatfield and Tommy West over that stretch and Tanner was building something on the diamond).
The football losing streak against Clemson has reached six games. That’s not quite the record seven of 1934-1940.
Back then, a smiling Clemson coach wasn’t popping up in ESPN commercials every hour. There were not so many houses in the neighborhood with orange and purple national championship banners on flag poles that once held banners adorned with pretty flowers and cute birds.
That stuff adds to the misery, mistletoe or not.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff