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South Carolina Gamecocks 31, Clemson Tigers 17: A Great Group of Players Bows Out With a Win

The Gamecocks aren't taking their second trip to Atlanta, but there's nothing to scoff at in the accomplishments that the program has racked up over the last four years

Streeter Lecka

What can you say about this South Carolina senior class, and the redshirt juniors that came in with them? And what can you say about their leader, Connor Shaw, a guy that won't (and shouldn't) win many major awards but did help his team pile up victories, something not contained so much in his "starting record" as in the way he steered his teams to wins, the way he performed on the field?

Because no matter what happened in Missouri on Saturday night, this class capped off by far the most accomplished four-year stretch in South Carolina history. Three wins each against Florida, Georgia and Tennessee. The last four victories in a five-game winning streak against Clemson, the longest the Gamecocks have ever enjoyed. The first SEC East title. The first 11-win season. The first back-to-back seasons of double-digit wins and, in a milestone clinched with the victory over Clemson on Saturday, the first back-to-back-to-back seasons of 10 or more wins. It's 41 wins and counting for a program that has never seen 41 wins over a four-year stretch. Ever.

The win Saturday might not look like the stuff of legends, at least not on the stat sheet. Shaw was the only Gamecock to have any success running the ball -- he carried it 22 times for 94 yards and a touchdown -- but he was only really okay in the passing game, going 14-of-26 for 152 yards and a score. And the team was helped mightily by the generosity of Clemson, which turned the ball over six times in a sloppy performance. South Carolina had three drives of 50 or more yards Saturday, and five (not counting the clock-killer at the end) of fewer than 20 yards.

But the defense chipped in when it needed two, sacking Tajh Boyd five times and keeping him on the run in other instances. Whether the fear Jadeveon Clowney sees in Boyd's eyes is real or imagined is anyone's guess, but it wasn't hard to see Saturday why Clowney thinks it exists. Add in the three picks and the three recovered fumbles, and it was the kind of complete defensive effort against a high-octane team that South Carolina has come close to in recent years, but never really reached.

In a series where the Gamecocks have at times struggled to win a single game, they never trailed in their fifth victory in a row. On two occasions, Clemson pulled into a tie -- and South Carolina scored 14 unanswered points both times. You could choose a player or two to highlight, but for the most part it was a team effort -- by a team that has done so much for its program.

It's the kind of four-year stretch of sustained success than can change a program's trajectory -- emphasis on can. There's still a lot that will determine where South Carolina goes from here, most importantly what happens whenever Steve Spurrier decides to retire. For all the greatness of the class of seniors that has taken South Carolina this far, Spurrier's play-calling has been one reason for the success that the Gamecocks have seen. They won't get another play-caller like Spurrier, but if they can get a coach with other strengths and can keep the recruiting pipelines going, this senior class could be seen as the foundation of a new era in South Carolina football.

All of that, though, is for another day. For now, South Carolina fans can enjoy the unprecedented success of the last four years and the senior class that brought it to them.