South Carolina's dream season had closed with a 24-7 victory
over Ohio State in the Outback Bowl, and before the celebrating
kicked into full swing, Lou Holtz took the time to lay a few
more bricks in the rebuilding of the program. "This win proves
what we can do," he said to his players. "Now let's take it to
another level. I'm not satisfied, and you shouldn't be either."
There is more promise in the air in Columbia, S.C., at the start
of a new season than there has been in a decade. The Gamecocks
began 2000 winless in their previous 21 starts; they ended it
with an unshakable belief that they can win their first SEC crown
since joining the league nine years ago. Some of the optimism
stems from having 18 starters back, the most Holtz recalls ever
having had in the 30 years he's been a head coach. "We realize
that we have to keep everything in perspective," says senior
quarterback Phil Petty, who threw only 10 interceptions in 315
attempts last season. "But we also know that we can play with
anybody. We proved that last year."
The biggest question mark on offense is whether junior running
back Derek Watson can stay out of trouble. Last season he rushed
for 1,066 yards and was the SEC's leader in all-purpose yards
(166.7 per game). But Holtz suspended him for the Outback Bowl
after he wrecked teammate Teddy Crawford's car at 3 a.m. on Dec.
21. (Watson was convicted of driving with a suspended license.)
In May, Holtz suspended Watson again after a female student
claimed that he hit her in the arm. (Watson was charged with
misdemeanor assault and battery, but his lawyers have asked that
he be allowed to enter a pretrial intervention program that would
erase the charge from his record.) On Sunday, Holtz said that the
running back had "done everything we've asked him to do" and had
therefore been reinstated. With Watson in the fold, junior Ryan
Brewer returns to wideout. Brewer was named MVP of the Outback
Bowl after rushing for 109 yards and catching three passes for 92
yards as Watson's replacement.
With eight starters back on defense, Holtz expects that unit to
dominate as thoroughly as last year's, which finished sixth in
the nation in scoring defense (15.8 points per game). "We have a
chance to be good," says Holtz. "We're not in the driver's seat
yet, but we're now in the car."
COLOR PHOTO: SCOTT K. BROWN With Watson back on board, Brewer (with ball), the Outback Bowl MVP, returns to his receiver spot.
2000 record: 8-4 (5-3, T2 in SEC East)
Final ranking: No. 19 AP, No. 21 coaches' poll
Gamecocks' red zone scoring efficiency, last in the SEC in 2000.
An opposing team's coach sizes up the Gamecocks
"Even when they were 0-11 [in 1999], they played good defense.
[Defensive coordinator] Charlie Strong has done one of the best
jobs in the country. He takes offenses out of what they want to
do, and on third down he puts in great blitzes and coverage
changes.... Derek Watson is a talented running back, and
quarterback Phil Petty improved every game. [Backup quarterback]
Dondrial Pinkins didn't have a good grasp of the offense, but
he's so talented. He'll play."
Strength: 29th of 117
Sept. 1 BOISE STATE
8 at Georgia
15 BOWLING GREEN
22 at Mississippi State
Oct. 6 KENTUCKY
13 vs. Arkansas*
27 at Tennessee
Nov. 10 FLORIDA
*At Little Rock