Looks like the USC football season is over. There's still a slim chance we could get invited to some very tiny bowl as a technically-eligible 6-6 team that travels well, but conventional wisdom says that's unlikley with up to 10 SEC teams already bowl-eligible. So, what's the unvarnished outcome?
Well, for starters, we ain't where we want to be yet. 3-5 in conference and a loss to Clemson is ugly, and there's no use trying to put lipstick on a pig. However, there are a few bright spots. First, we're in the hunt in the SEC East. That was our main goal this season. Can't say we won anything, but on the last day of the season, a team we took to overtime (Tennessee) clinched the East title over a top-10 team we beat (Georgia) by beating another previously top-10 team we beat (Kentucky). If that's not close, I don't know what is. At least it's a step toward where we want to be. Secondly, we're pretty competitive with Clemson. Again, I know we lost. And you can argue that it should have been worse, considering the mistakes we made. But not only did we beat the 2.5 point spread, we came down to a last-second field goal against a team that will likely win 10 games this year. And finally, (although as a Gamecock fan it DOES get old saying this) we should be better next year. Our defense was pretty good before the injuries kicked in. We'll get back Jasper Brinkley and a healthy Captain Munnerlyn next season, plus some of those big freshmen will have experience. We lose Casper, Cory Boyd, and Blake Mitchell. Jasper, Mike Davis, and either Smelley or Garcia should fill those gaps without significant drop-off, and that great recruiting class we had last year should get a year older and better, and hopefully will be joined by a few others who can see promises of significant playing time in Columbia.
Of course, there's bad news, too. Some folks said we had the 2nd-toughest schedule in the country this year. And lets face it--there are some teams going to BCS bowls this year who couldn't have gone unscathed through Florida, Tennessee, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, and Arkansas this season. Shucks, LSU is likely the best team in the country, and they couldn't run the table in the SEC. It's not like that's going to get easier anytime soon. Luckily, a few of the teams we play will lose some key players, but we'll still have to face Tim Tebow again next year. And in the SEC East, you can have a top-10 recruiting class and still lose ground. So it's an uphill climb.
All told, though, I'm not badly disappointed. The only game I wish we could have back was Vandy. We really should have won that one. A bounce here or there and we could have possibly gotten UT or Clemson, or both. Didn't, but could have. I'll take it... and look forward, as always, to next season.