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December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!



"Merry Christmas."
------------ BING CROSBY

It's been quite a year, and as you gather around family to open your presents, we at GamecockCentral.com offer the presents you've gotten to unwrap over the past 365 days.

* A 10-win football team for the first time in 27 years. And there's a chance for an 11th win, which has never been done before.

* A consensus All-American for only the third time in program history. Melvin Ingram played his senior season like he had a bus to catch, and it paid off with an outstanding year and a major rise up NFL draft boards. Plus, joining George Rogers and Del Wilkes on the award list is something that will keep Ingram in mind forever.

* A running back who suffered a horrible injury but immediately committed himself to returning better than ever, and in the meantime, offers coaching tips to his backups. In this age of greed and ego, Marcus Lattimore continues to be an example of what to be, both on and off the field, for young athletes.

* A backup quarterback who patiently bided his time while his predecessor used up chance after chance, then had to listen to criticism when he earned the right to start, as if the guy in front had been lighting up the world. Connor Shaw deserves the praise he's now receiving.

* A team full of altogether good kids. Sure, the Gamecocks have had their run-ins with trouble, but for the most part, have been fully committed to the team's vision. For them not to give up when Stephen Garcia was dismissed and Lattimore was hurt speaks far more than results in how this program has turned the corner.

* A coach who's still at it in his late 60s and seems to get younger every time he speaks. Steve Spurrier is exactly what USC wanted when it hired him - a program-builder and a winner. And he's such a good coach that he doesn't even have to glorify its greatness when the cameras are running, or attempt to run down the other programs that compete against him.

* An athletic director with a vision to make USC the best overall athletic program in the country. Eric Hyman has transformed USC's campus with new facilities and more on the way and spearheaded the department's run into the black after taking over a debt-ridden book. Hyman has realized that while no decision will please everybody, tough decisions will make some folks angry for a while before they realize what they have - a program considered the best among its peers.

* An athletic program that by and large is winning. There are still some programs under construction or going through a lull, but overall, USC is fielding winners in every sport. Fantastic success has become a bit of the norm over the past year, thanks to the next on the list.

* Many knew that Ray Tanner was a winner when he arrived at USC in the fall of 1996, and figured the program would quickly become solid as it recovered. To see it become this successful has been a wonderful gift, and it keeps getting better. Not only has Tanner's bunch won two straight national championships, they have done it in dominating fashion. USC can't lose in Omaha, having taken 11 straight contests, and after winning a repeat title with a different cast than the first, it stands an awfully good chance to win a third.

* An up-and-coming women's basketball program that after four years or building, is enjoying those fruits. Yes, it's women's basketball, but a fan should be a fan of all programs of its school, no?

* A reversal of football fortune when it comes to in-state recruiting. Kids grow up in South Carolina now and all they've ever known is the Gamecocks being successful. Hard to believe, isn't it? That plays a factor when they're deciding which college to attend, especially if it comes down to USC and Clemson. They don't remember the 1-10 and 0-11 days, they only remember the TV games and the success under Spurrier. It does help.

* And for a USC fan, the greatest gift of all. As you gather around your Christmas tree, reflect that it has been 1,121 days since those Clemson-loving friends and family of yours have been able to hold their fingers in the sky and smirk at you, with at least 335 more days (remember, 2012 is a leap year) to add to that total. That hasn't happened in 40 years, and to make it better - the Tigers can't beat the Gamecocks in almost anything these days.

If you have any questions about this feature or wish to discuss it, visit The Insiders Forum: https://southcarolina.rivals.com/forum.asp?fid=1824

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