COLUMBIA — Will Muschamp answered sensibly.
“It’s not about that,” he said after South Carolina's 28-3 win over Akron ended his third regular season at 7-5. “It’s about making progress in our program.”
Muschamp set a USC coaching record with the victory. His 22 wins over his first three seasons at South Carolina are the most of any coach that’s trod that sideline. He can of course add to that with a win in the Belk Bowl, and that’s another record he has — Muschamp is the only USC coach to take the Gamecocks to bowl games in each of his first three seasons.
He wasn’t going to trumpet it because that’s not who he is, and he’s also been in the business long enough to know that the first time a coach starts relaxing and enjoying what his hard work has produced, the product starts to slip away. He probably also knows, because he’s not deaf and can see the world’s opinion every time he calls up Twitter, that while the marks are meaningful, they’re not nearly as meaningful as they could be.
This is the reality of coaching the Gamecocks. At any other time, winning 22 games over three seasons and going to three straight bowl games would be worthy of naming rights on whatever new building he wanted constructed.
Because Muschamp followed Steve Spurrier, it’s good, but the raw numbers will always be interpreted and compared, and not in Muschamp's favor.
Spurrier won nine games and an SEC East championship, then began a three-year stretch of 11-2 seasons. He beat Georgia, beat Florida and most importantly, beat Clemson.
Muschamp hasn’t beaten Georgia or Clemson. He got the Gators once, and would have got them another time until his defense forgot how to tackle. He obviously didn’t take over a rose garden in 2016 — see above about relaxing and enjoying success — but when talking about number of wins, it devolves into discussions not about wins, but about who he beat.
The Gamecocks are 1-11 against Top 25 teams under Muschamp, the lone win coming in 2016 against No. 18 Tennessee. It’s unfair to say USC hasn’t beaten “anybody” under Muschamp (N.C. State and Michigan, each in 2017, are certainly quality wins although each wasn’t in the Top 25 when USC played them), but that’s what the optics display.
“We understand where we are and where we need to go,” Muschamp said, pointing out that his staff has combined for 10 national championships and close to 30 conference championships. “There’s nobody more impatient than me in that process, and sometimes it’s extremely frustrating like this year was a little bit.”
And he also said a lot when asked how close he felt the Gamecocks were to getting to that championship level.
“Well, we’re not closer than 7-5,” he said. “You are what your record is.”
He's impatient and wants his fans to be impatient. Who knows if they would be more patient had Spurrier never showed up, or done what he did, but that’s the hand that’s been dealt.
It’s an extremely tough sell saying USC can win an SEC championship someday. Spurrier got close a few times, but only had the one appearance in the title game. Before that, most would have been satisfied with winning records, constant bowl appearances and/or beating Clemson.
It did happen. And while Muschamp guided an injury-plagued team to another winning year and a bowl game, he’ll enter next season with three five-game losing streaks and another four-game losing streak on the schedule (but curiously, a one-game winning streak against the best team on it — Alabama).
“You can’t just do it and stop, you got to keep doing it,” Muschamp said of success. “Look at the programs winning a bunch of games right now, that’s what they’re doing.
“I said before the season started, we got a much better football team entering Year 3. We have a strong foundation, we have a bunch of really good young players in our program, we’ve had some frustrating things happen to us for whatever reason this year. But I’m excited about where we are and where we’re headed.”