This is South Carolina

March 25, 2009

While my time in South Carolina is drawing short, there are a few comments I’d like to make about how ridiculous this state remains. I first moved to South Carolina in the fall of 2001 to go to college in Greenville. I graduated in 2005 and then moved back to the state, to Columbia, in the summer of 2007. So for most of the past decade I’ve been living in the state. Not much has changed while I’ve been here, except one thing. The state is no longer allowed to host NCAA tournament games of any kind in any sport.

My first year at Furman, the BI-LO Center in Greenville hosted first and second round NCAA tournament basketball. While I didn’t actually go, the city was buzzing with people for a week. This was the spring of 2002. Since that weekend seven years ago, South Carolina has been barred from hosting games because of the Confederate flag that flies on the state house grounds, now just five blocks from where I live. With protests from the NAACP (among many other groups) the flag was removed from flying atop the state house (where it had been since 1962) and placed next to the monument to Confederate soldiers at the intersection of Main Street and Gervais Street in downtown in 2000. As long as that flag flies there (or anywhere) the entire state of South Carolina is barred.

In a purely objective sense, it doesn’t really bother me that the flag is flying. For as many people as there are in this state who detest the flag as a symbol of racism and hatred, there are equal legions of folks who see it as a symbol of cultural heritage and state pride. I am not going to judge either side for their arguments. But there is a very different argument that is especially pertinent this year.

The economy in this country is in shambles. Of the fifty states in this country, only a few are worse off than South Carolina. With unemployment soaring past 10% (and rising), one of the worst public education systems around and a Governor who is trying his best to refuse federal stimulus money (and run for President in 2012), it is just not a good time to have a multi-million dollar influx disappear. Or really, never even be a possibility.

Columbia built the Colonial Life Arena for the University of South Carolina and specifically to host NCAA tournament games in 2002. The 18,000-seat gym is a beautiful structure and a great place to watch a game. It’s in a relatively large city that is easy to reach by interstate (I-26, I-20 and I-77 all meet here) or by plane. The gym is less than a five minute walk to the most interesting and happening part of Columbia, the Vista. But because of the ban, not a single tournament game has ever been played here.

Now think about this: Boise, Dayton, Albuquerque, Greensboro. What do those places have in common with Columbia? They’re all either state capitals or middle-sized cities without professional sports. What doesn’t Columbia have in common with them? Columbia is never, ever mentioned 200 times per day for the first four days of the NCAA tournament. In a state with 10% unemployment, wouldn’t a vast need for at least part-time work for parking attendants, hotel workers, waiters and bar tenders, concession stand workers, ushers, arena cleaning and myriad other opportunities for work be exactly what could help people in this area? Those aren’t glamor jobs but the need for work around here is palpable.

The point of all this is just to say that this state is wasting an easy opportunity to bring millions of dollars into the economy on a near-yearly basis just to fly a small, square flag that happens to have stars and bars. There isn’t much that can be done about Mark Sanford at this point except to wait out his term, but in a state whose largest source of financial strength is in tourism (golf mostly, and Charleston/Myrtle Beach/Hilton Head), why not add to that pot? It’s a shame to have such a great arena sitting empty each and every March in a city that really could use the business.

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Carolina Flop

January 1, 2009

carolina

I know I haven’t spent as much time in the latter months of this year as I did earlier on focusing on South Carolina football. So let me go ahead and finish off the season with a quick post. They suck. The end.

Shonn Greene and Iowa completely crushed Carolina down in Tampa at the Outback Bowl. Greene had 121 yards rushing and three touchdowns and Iowa jumped out to a 31-0 lead before Carolina scored toward the end for a 31-10 final. Not only could the Gamecocks not stop the Iowa ground game (or any other part of Iowa’s offense), quarterback Stephen Garcia was horrid. Garcia was 9-18 for 79 yards and three awful interceptions. He also lost a fumble in the first half and was eventually benched in favor of Chris Smelley. Garcia is of course from Tampa and his ‘homecoming’ certainly didn’t live up to whatever expectations Carolina might have had.

This is I suppose a fitting end for such a weird year for the Gamecocks. They had a few nice wins (at Ole Miss, Arkansas and they crushed Tennessee) but over the last three games they were outscored 118-30 in losses to Iowa today, Clemson and Florida. Not the worst losses in the world but they were by such resounding margins that it’s going to be tough this offseason to point to anything good that happened late in ’08.

The loss today leaves Carolina at 7-6. Last year they went 6-6 (after starting 6-1). It’s pretty safe to say that the Steve Spurrier era just isn’t working out here in Columbia. Even though he probably has the all-time honeymoon period, questions aren’t going to be far off here in town about whether or not it’s time to move on and change direction. Four years haven’t amounted to much so far. Mostly high expectations and missed opportunities.


Weird Week in College Football

November 14, 2008

This is one of those calm-before-the-storm weeks in college football. Isn’t it strange how that happens? Maybe the bigger programs schedule some softer opponents in this week to offset how ridiculously difficult the end of a football season is. Or maybe it’s just luck. Regardless, this is a weird week.

The best game of the week, somehow, is South Carolina @ Florida. South Carolina has a top-5 defense nationally and has Florida’s Heisman winner and former coach Steve Spurrier at the helm, so it’s automatically a big game for that reason. Also, Carolina is having a really good season and is now ranked in the top 25 with only three losses (LSU, Vanderbilt and Georgia), each by just seven points. Florida, meanwhile, is completely destroying its opponents. Since their loss at home to Ole Miss almost two months ago, the Gators have scored at least 38 points in every game including two that topped 50. So can the Carolina defense slow down the potent Gator offense? Doubtful, but it makes it the best option on a Saturday full of fluff.

Here’s what we have to look forward to among ranked teams:

No. 22 Cincinnati @ Louisville – Big East sucks
No. 10 Ohio State @ Illinois – yawn
No. 7 Penn State v. Indiana – blowout
No. 4 Texas @ Kansas – not as good a game as it would’ve been last year
No. 13 Georgia @ Auburn – Auburn sucks
No. 16 BYU @ Air Force – mildly intriguing but has no bearing on BCS
No. 17 UNC @ Maryland – eh
No. 9 Boise State @ Idaho – blowout
No. 12 Missouri @ Iowa State – Big 12 North sucks
No. 6 Southern Cal @ Stanford – last big game for Jim Harbaugh before he joins the Raiders
Mississippi State @ No. 1 Alabama – yawn
No. 8 Utah @ San Diego State – destruction
Boston College @ No. 20 Florida State – could be interesting
No. 11 Oklahoma State @ Colorado – rout
Troy @ No. 19 LSU – how is this game on the schedule?

Someone ranked will probably lose to someone unranked this weekend as that usually happens this time of year in college football. But how are there no other match-ups between ranked teams in mid-November? And why are most of the ranked teams playing away from home this week? And maybe the strangest question of all, why is ESPN’s College Game Day show at the Florida A&M-Hampton game? Very odd.


Ref Takes Out Garcia

October 20, 2008

This is one of the most amazing videos I’ve ever seen. Somehow the SEC is claiming that this ref (second one down) was ‘trying to protect himself.’ Maybe it’s just me, but it looks like he’s running right in Garcia’s way and lowers his shoulder to deliver a bit of a hit on the Carolina quarterback. Making it even worse is that it was at the LSU 4-yard line. Now, Carolina did score on a Mike Davis one-yard touchdown, so it didn’t keep the Gamecocks from winning the game. But just imagine what would be happening here in Columbia right now if that had been on fourth down and kept the Cocks down 24-17, as the final score fell?

Anyway, just check it out and let me know what you think. On purpose? Or trying to get out of the way?


Welcome to Spurrier-World

October 15, 2008

Having never lived in a town where Steve Spurrier was actively the coach, I’ve never really tried to follow his moves in regards to his rotation of quarterbacks. I know there has only ever been one quarterback to never be replaced under Spurrier and I think it was Shane Matthews (at UF, not with the Redskins). So it should come as no surprise that Stephen Garcia will be the new starter for South Carolina this week against LSU.

Tommy Beecher, Chris Smelley and now Garcia. I thought for sure Garcia would start against Mississippi State after his solid performance against UAB but Spurrier thought otherwise and it turned out that Smelley had an amazing game. Then last week, trailing at Kentucky, Spurrier gave Smelley the old hook and brought in Garcia, who ended up winning the game for the Gamecocks. So now Garcia gets his greatly-anticipated (around here anyway) debut as starting quarterback against a top 15 team with a pretty solid defense (though you wouldn’t have known that last week against Florida).

garciaI really have no idea if Garcia is going to be any better than Smelley. It has always confused me as to why Spurrier moves his guys around so much. No one ever gets a chance to really settle in and they always have to look over their shoulders at one or two other quarterbacks who will take their place if Spurrier feels like making a move. It’s entirely likely that Garcia will throw two interceptions in the first half and Smelley will come in as the second half starter.

There are some benefits to using a multiple quarterback system. Florida did it best with Chris Leak and Tim Tebow a few years ago and LSU did it nicely with Matt Flynn and Ryan Perrilloux last year. But that’s not what Steve’s going for at all. He just has no patience with his quarterbacks and at the slightest hint of struggling, he pulls them for someone else. And then repeats, and repeats and repeats.

Garcia is a good player and he’ll probably be a nice change of pace for Carolina this week as he can easily run with the ball as well as throw it down field. But what will it do to his confidence (he is still a freshman after all) if he gets yanked?

I guess this is just what happens when one lives in Spurrier-World.


No Garcia, No Problem

October 5, 2008

Apparently South Carolina didn’t need Stephen Garcia after all. Chris Smelley threw for over three hundred yards and Carolina defeated Ole Miss in Oxford, 31-24. Smelley had the services of Kenny McKinley for the first time in a month and Jared Cook continued his excellent season with a handful of catches including a 63-yarder. Interestingly enough, the win and offensive explosion, really the first of the year, came against Tyrone Nix, Carolina’s defensive coordinator as recently as last season.

I don’t know if Spurrier planned on keeping Garcia on the bench for the whole game or if he made the decision as he watched Smelley excel for the first time this year, but it was really strange to see the quarterback who played most of last week’s game and put up impressive numbers, just standing on the sideline without even putting his helmet on. This blog thought for sure that Spurrier would be leaning toward his talented redshirt freshman this week and going forward after the UAB game but clearly that wasn’t the case. It would be classic Spurrier, however, to give us a nice dose of Garcia next week at Kentucky, a team who nearly knocked of no. 2 Alabama yesterday.

This was a game South Carolina absolutely needed to win. It had been exactly a year since Carolina won an SEC game (vs. Kentucky on Thursday night) and to do it against a team who had just last week defeated Florida in Gainesville, was really big. Carolina now sits 4-2 with a decent chance to finish .500 or better. After Kentucky, the Cocks will host LSU, Tennessee and Arkansas in consecutive home games. With UT looking like shit and Arkansas being even worse, it’s conceivable Carolina could enter the final two games of the season (@ Florida and @ Clemson) with a 7-3 record. But we’ll see what happens at Kentucky first…


And So It Begins…

September 28, 2008

Garcia

The Stephen Garica era at South Carolina is about to begin in earnest. He still probably won’t start at Ole Miss next weekend, but his 131 yards passing and 86 yards rushing put him solidly in first place among the group of pretty average quarterbacks currently residing here in Columbia. Carolina defeated UAB 26-13 with Garcia throwing for one touchdown and running for another. The victory for the Gamecocks was relatively benign, but considering this is the third quarterback to see significant time in only five games, I suppose it’s somewhat understandable.

Garcia brings a different skill set to the ballgame than does either Tommy Beecher or Chris Smelley. Garcia has a rifle for an arm but apparently also has some nice wheels. The ability to move around and create some offense when the blocking breaks down (which is pretty frequently) is a huge asset for the foundering Gamecock offense.

Carolina travels to Oxford next weekend to play the rejuvenated Ole Miss side that just knocked off Florida at the swamp. The reality is that it’s a good chance for Carolina to play the Rebels as they’re unlikely to play as well the game after beating Florida. But still, the ability to win such a game, especially on the road, has to scare the shite out of South Carolina, who probably saw this game as a guaranteed victory when tallying in the pre-season.

The Gamecock defense remains stout and will probably keep them in the game, even against Ole Miss who scored 31 points on Florida. But unless the O makes some serious headway, it’s likely Carolina will fall in Oxford.