South Carolina Football: Gamecocks Finally Earning the Respect of Their Peers

Alex Roberts@@alexCoAbassCorrespondent IApril 23, 2012

ORLANDO, FL - JANUARY 02:  South Carolina Gamecocks head coach Steve Spurrier reacts after winning the Capitol One Bowl against the Nebraska Cornhuskers at Florida Citrus Bowl on January 2, 2012 in Orlando, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

I never thought I would see the day when the Gamecocks are fully entrenched in the discussion for the SEC's best team. 

They haven't won a championship yet, and they have a ways to go to become elite, but the team is finally being respected by the opposition. 

For a while, the elite teams of the conference would just count the Gamecocks as an easy "W."  Tennessee, Georgia, Florida and the elite western teams just saw the Gamecocks as another Kentucky, Vandy or Mississippi school (both, actually). 

Even the Clemson Tigers viewed them as an easy "W" through most of the '90s and early 2000s. 

Those days are gone.  I have had numerous discussions with some great Georgia fans, Florida fans and Tennessee fans.  They discuss the ins and outs of the teams, the strengths and weaknesses and how they can be exploited.  They worry about these games, and it causes some stimulating football discussion. 

I don't discuss football much with Clemson fans, due to the fact that many of them just expect South Carolina to start losing to the Tigers again with regularity like before.  (News flash: It's not happening.)

That's not to discredit all Clemson fans.  Some can discuss the team without resorting to calling them "coots" or "the same old program."  Yes, I am biased, and admittedly so when it comes to that particular rivalry. 

This shows how far the program has come.  The recruiting is consistently successful and devoid of many busts.  Game-changers are committing to the program at an alarming rate.  There are players coming from the backyards of the Bulldogs and Gators, and people aren't shocked. 

This is a program on the rise.  While there is still plenty of room for growth, the athletic department has it on the right path: upwards and onwards. 

It truly is a great and unique time to be a Gamecock fan.