South Carolina begins the season in seven short (but so long) days, carrying the weight and pressure of what's expected to be the greatest season in school history on its collective shoulders. The hype has built with each preseason accolade, ranking and prediction, with practices becoming increasingly harder to get the players focused because they all want to be hitting somebody else.
The past three and a half weeks have been thoroughly covered by GamecockCentral.com, each practice and media session detailed in print, video and photograph. But as the season prepares to begin, it's important to take a look back at how the season really began to develop - as in, what happened from the end of the 2010 season to today.
A look back:
JAN. 2 Two days after a disappointing loss in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, wide receiver Tori Gurley announces that he's vacating his final two years of eligibility and entering the NFL Draft. While some thought it was a hasty decision, considering the state of the NFL labor situation and his numbers, Gurley was in an unusual situation. Because his road to USC was rather lengthy, Gurley was already 23 in just his redshirt sophomore year. If he had played out his full eligibility, he would have been 25 by the time he tried the NFL, or four years into his prime.
There was also the no-getting-around-it case of Alshon Jeffery, who stood to return in 2011 and be the Gamecocks' top pass-catcher. Gurley knew he could never hope to have a breakout year with Jeffery on the other side, and even if he waited until Jeffery left (which should be after this season), he would still be in the same situation of playing as a 25-year-old senior.
Gurley did not get drafted but did sign a free-agent deal with Green Bay. He played in an exhibition win over Indianapolis on Friday and caught two passes for 17 yards. He is on the short list of free agents bidding to make the team, being praised for his work ethic and special-teams prowess.
JAN. 13 Redshirt freshman wide receiver DeMario Bennett transfers to Coastal Carolina. Bennett had come to USC in the class of 2009 but had redshirted after hamstring injuries derailed his promising preseason camp, and he only caught one pass for 4 yards in 2010 despite playing in seven games.
Bennett is sitting out the 2011 season at Coastal due to "academic reasons," coach David Bennett said, and will have two years of eligibility with the Chanticleers afterward.
FEB. 7 Redshirt freshman offensive lineman Tramell Williams transfers to Alabama State. Williams told GamecockCentral.com that it was strictly due to playing time, and he had an eye on perhaps transferring back up a level, to "one of the Florida schools," if everything worked out.
The Jacksonville native was part of USC's banner offensive line recruiting class but didn't figure to contribute right away.
FEB. 2 On National Signing Day, 26 commitments pledge to the Gamecocks in an extremely solid class. Ranked 18th by Rivals.com, USC reels in four-star recruits Phillip Dukes, Sheldon Royster and Brandon Shell, to go with four-stars Kelcy Quarles and Brison Williams, who had enrolled in January. USC also had 11 in-state signees in another banner haul.
FEB. 4 USC officially announces that another four-star recruit, wide receiver Damiere Byrd, has faxed in his national letter-of-intent. Byrd would have done it sooner but there was a foul-up in the exchange; Byrd was competing in a track event in Japan on Signing Day.
FEB. 14 Ending almost a full year of speculation, the nation's top recruit calmly plucks a USC hat from the three on the table and tugs it over his mass of braids. Defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, lauded as not only the country's No. 1 prospect but one of the best recruits in the past decade, does as many expected he would and pledges to the Gamecocks. USC puts a stamp on its 2011 class and Clowney turns 18 at the same time he gives a Valentine's Day present to Gamecock Nation.
Coach Steve Spurrier, discussing the commitment, also announces some staff changes. Shane Beamer departs USC for a position on his father's staff at Virginia Tech, leaving a hole at recruiting coordinator and special-teams coordinator. Steve Spurrier Jr. takes over the recruiting reins, while Spurrier moves Jeep Hunter to work with the team's safeties, and puts Lorenzo Ward solely in charge of cornerbacks.
FEB. 23 Spurrier hires John Butler from the Houston Texans (for two weeks), and before that, from the University of Minnesota, as his special-teams coach. Butler had one of the best special-teams units in the Big Ten during his tenure.
MARCH 15 Spring practice begins with huge enthusiasm, since the team is coming off a nine-win SEC East championship year and returns most of the key players. One key player, though, is sitting on the sidelines for the first week. Quarterback Stephen Garcia is suspended for what Spurrier calls "an earlier incident," along with backup QB Andrew Clifford. It's the fourth suspension of Garcia's turbulent career and it's revealed that he and Clifford were caught breaking curfew three days before the Chick-fil-A Bowl, entertaining two female guests in their hotel room with alcohol involved.
MARCH 23 Garcia returns to the practice fields and speaks, apologizing for the bad press he's brought to the program and guaranteeing he's done with getting into trouble.
MARCH 24 Bruce Ellington, star point guard and leading scorer for USC's basketball team, announces that he will play football in 2011. He attends spring practice but cannot participate due to NCAA rules, but says that football never left his mindset after a standout career in high school, and he missed the game far too much. Ellington says he'll play both sports in 2011-12, and Spurrier says he will let Ellington play basketball in the break between the end of the regular season and a bowl game.
MARCH 25 Cries of mistreatment by the Columbia police are echoed around the Midlands after Clowney, visiting Columbia for a night, is handcuffed, searched and detained during the early-morning hours in Five Points. No charges are brought and Clowney is not arrested, but he is cuffed in full view of several students, who become belligerent, begin chanting for the police to let him go and then start throwing bottles and other debris.
The police visit practice that same day and Spurrier allows himself to be handcuffed by the police chief, Spurrier and the police illustrating that the procedure for any "suspect" (Clowney was detained because he apparently fit the description of a vandal that was phoned in by an anonymous tip) is to cuff them, then search them so the officer's safety is guaranteed. Spurrier says it's no shame or big deal to be handcuffed, since the chief told him that somebody matching the coach's description had held up a gas station (wink, wink).
APRIL 6 Just before practice is set to begin, a statement is issued from athletic director Eric Hyman that says Garcia is suspended indefinitely from all team activities for behavior unacceptable of a USC student-athlete. Spurrier and USC president Harris Pastides are in agreement with the suspension, Garcia's fifth.
It emerges that Garcia was disruptive during a recent seminar, had alcohol on his breath and was asked to leave. He is given a list of provisions to accomplish while he's away from the team if he wants to come back to school, and is told he may transfer if he wishes.
APRIL 9 USC holds its spring game, with the Garnet team beating the Black team 21-17. Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson are the two main quarterbacks in Garcia's absence.
APRIL 15 Spurrier is rewarded with a pay boost for his successful 2010 season, but doesn't take an extension to his contract, which runs through the 2013 season. Hyman says not to read too much into it, but many begin to wonder if Spurrier is thinking about hanging it up after that year.
MAY 30 Garcia is allowed to work with the team during voluntary summer conditioning. Spurrier says it's not a definite that he'll be back, as the QB is on probation, but Garcia is allowed to be there. One of the believed conditions on his list, graduating from school, has been accomplished, and Garcia has again cut his hair.
JUNE 16 Redshirt freshman cornerback Victor Hampton is dismissed from the team. No reason is given when Hampton is contacted by GamecockCentral.com, but he has had to sit out of practices for academic reasons in the past.
JUNE 18 DeVonte Holloman is arrested for DUI. It will come out later that it costs him a one-game suspension, which has to be served in the Gamecocks' season-opener, played in Holloman's hometown of Charlotte.
JUNE 21 Hampton is reinstated, although he doesn't comment when reached. It's revealed that Hampton met with Spurrier and the coach decided to give him another chance.
JUNE 23 Spurrier chimes in on the Hampton situation, says it's not a definite that Hampton will be back but a decision will be made before the next summer semester. Hampton does come back in the fall and will serve a three-game suspension.
JULY 5 The second summer semester begins and USC's entire recruiting class is on campus, save three players. Jerell Adams, Quincy McKinney and Ronnie Martin do not qualify. Adams and McKinney head to Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy, while Martin enrolls at Georgia Military College.
JULY 9 Bryce Sherman is told his scholarship won't be renewed and he quits the team. He remains enrolled at USC.
Lexington athlete Shaq Roland, considered by many to be the top player in South Carolina for the next recruiting cycle, verbally commits to the Gamecocks.
JULY 14 Freshman linebacker Edward Muldrow is arrested in Five Points for possession of alcohol by a minor, public drunkenness and littering. He will later be suspended for the first game.
JULY 20 At SEC Media Days, Spurrier says he's considering banning his team from using Twitter after some players post graphic, profane and offensive statements. He later follows up on it.
JULY 26 Assistant coach G.A. Mangus is arrested in Greenville on a charge of nuisance conduct, later revealed to be public urination. Mangus hasn't spoken publicly since, but has paid the fine and taken his university-imposed punishment. He was docked a month's pay and is on probation for the rest of his tenure at USC.