The measuring stick for the South Carolina football program keeps changing.
On the heels of the programs first 11-win season, the Gamecocks finished the 2011 campaign ranked in the Associated Press Top 10 for the first time in 118 seasons.
USC capped the season with a 30-13 victory against Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl, a victory that moved the team up one spot to No. 9 in the final AP poll, which was released Tuesday morning.
This is another first that were proud of another goal reached, USC coach Steve Spurrier said. Theres still some room higher than that, and well shoot for that next year.
These Gamecocks, whose 11-2 record includes a 3-1 mark against opponents who finished in the season-ending Top 25, bested the final ranking of No. 11 by the 1984 team, which went 10-2 but lost its bowl game.
In the USA Today coaches poll, South Carolina finished No. 8 because Southern California, the No. 6 team in the AP poll, was deemed ineligible for inclusion by the American Football Coaches Association due to NCAA sanctions.
By winning their final four games of the season, the Gamecocks finished stronger than some of their predecessors. The 1984 and 1987 teams both entered their bowl games in the Top 10 before losing and falling out.
South Carolina, which finished No. 22 last season after a 9-5 season that ended with consecutive losses, also finished ranked in the Top 25 for the second consecutive season, something that occurred one other time in 2000 and 2001, when the Gamecocks ended their campaigns No. 19 and No. 13, respectively.
This season was the fourth consecutive winning campaign under Spurrier, who doesnt have a losing record in his seven years guiding the program to a 55-35 record. Football play-by-play broadcaster Todd Ellis, who quarterbacked the 1987 team to a final ranking of No. 15, believes this high-water mark is a sign of things to come.
At times, weve had some very successful individual seasons, but we havent been able to sustain it for any period of time, Ellis said. We have the greatest chance weve ever had to do that since Ive been here.
Mike Hold, a quarterback on the 1984 team, which held the school records for wins and highest final ranking until this season, agreed with Ellis about the direction of the program.
Im extremely excited about it (the final ranking) and where the program is going. This program has arrived, said Hold, who serves as the executive director of the Newberry College Athletic Club. They do it every year now and keep getting better and better. I wouldnt be surprised if they won 12 games next season.
Ellis, the programs all-time leading passer, noted the successful recruiting classes that Spurrier keeps stacking up are paying off, and those school-record 20 wins over the past two seasons should mean top recruits continue to choose South Carolina. The recruiting efforts also have supplied more talent across the board, which helped the Gamecocks overcome the injury to tailback Marcus Lattimore and the dismissal of quarterback Stephen Garcia this season.
We showed significant depth, which is a great sign for the future, Ellis said.
Senior defensive tackle Travian Robertson, part of a class that finished 34-19 over the past four seasons, was pleased by the teams final ranking.
I was excited when I heard about it, Robertson said. I was hoping we would be a little higher, but its something thats never been done before.
The Gamecocks finished behind national champion Alabama, LSU, Oklahoma State, Oregon, Arkansas, Southern Cal, Stanford and Boise State, a group that includes three SEC teams and several longtime national powers.
Its an incredible feeling to be known as the best team in South Carolina history, junior center T.J. Johnson said. Thats what we came here to do, and it shows that all of our hard work is paying off.
AP Top 25
|1. Alabama (54)||12-1||1,470||2|
|2. LSU (1)||13-1||1,401||1|
|3. Oklahoma St. (4)||12-1||1,376||3|
|6. Southern Cal||10-2||1,167||5|
|8. Boise St.||12-1||1,108||8|
|9. South Carolina||11-2||995||10|
|11. Michigan St.||11-3||861||12|
|15. Kansas St.||10-3||608||11|
|17. West Virginia||10-3||539||23|
|20. Southern Miss.||12-2||406||22|
|21. Virginia Tech||11-3||322||17|
|23. Florida St.||9-4||150||25|
Others receiving votes: BYU 49, Auburn 40, N. Illinois 33, Missouri 22, Texas 15, Rutgers 3, N. Dakota St. 2, Penn St. 2, Virginia 1.
USA Today Top 25
|1. Alabama (59)||12-1||1,475||2|
|3. Oklahoma State||12-1||1,367||3|
|6. Boise State||12-1||1,162||6|
|8. South Carolina||11-2||1,084||9|
|10. Michigan State||11-3||912||13|
|16. Kansas State||10-3||602||10|
|17. Virginia Tech||11-3||574||11|
|18. West Virginia||10-3||554||22|
|19. Southern Mississippi||12-2||429||21|
|23. Florida State||9-4||205||25|
|25. Brigham Young||10-3||79||NR|
Others receiving votes: Northern Illinois 36; Missouri 33; Texas 29; Auburn 28; Rutgers 11; Penn State 10; Texas A&M 5; Virginia 4; Temple 2; Washington 2; Arkansas State 1; Florida 1; Louisiana-Lafayette 1; Mississippi State 1; Notre Dame 1; Ohio 1.