UK's futility against Gamecocks confounding

John Clay
John Clay

Never mind that Kentucky hasn't beaten Tennessee since the first Ronald Reagan administration.

Never mind that two weeks ago Kentucky extended to 23 the number of consecutive years it has lost to the Florida Gators.

Never mind even that now another season has passed and Kentucky has beaten the Alabama Crimson Tide just twice in the history of collegiate football.

As a Kentucky football fan, here's what should totally blow your mind: The Cats have lost nine straight to South Carolina.

For all the talk of breaking that glass ceiling and joining the upper echelon of the SEC, of finally snapping those Florida and Tennessee losing streaks, of upsetting highly ranked teams like the Gators and the Tide, those are giant steps.

Here's the real next step: Beating South Carolina.

When the Gamecocks entered the SEC in 1992, they were viewed as expansion franchise, one that would have to pay its dues before it could earn its spurs and compete with the regular conference holdovers.

That hasn't been the case with the Gamecocks and the Cats. Since the league split into two divisions 17 years ago, South Carolina has finished above UK in the East standings 11 times. Kentucky has finished ahead of South Carolina five times. The two teams were both 3-5 in league play in '07.

Head-to-head as conference members, Kentucky won five of the first eight meetings, including a 30-10 beat-down of Lou Holtz's Gameocks in Columbia in 1999.

But then South Carolina knocked off Hal Mumme and Co., 20-17, in Lexington in 2000, and the Gamecocks haven't stopped beating the Big Blue.

Holtz topped the Cats four more times before becoming Dr. Lou on ESPN. Steve Spurrier has continued the trend with four straight wins over the Cats since settling in Columbia in 2005.

We're not talking about whippings here. Six of the nine losses have been decided by a touchdown or less, including Carolina's 24-17 win over Rich Brooks and Co. last year in Lexington.

Just twice in the nine-year streak has South Carolina topped the 400-yard mark in total offense. Each of the past two years, South Carolina averaged less than 2.4 yards per rush, yet still beat Kentucky.

That's what is so confounding and frustrating about the series. It's not that the Gamecocks are markedly superior to the Cats. In fact, South Carolina is much like Kentucky in that it, too, is trying to climb that hill and join the conference's upper class. Yet, Carolina always seems to get the better of the Cats.

And surely South Carolina will be picked to do so again Saturday in Columbia. Spurrier's club is 4-1, including an impressive 16-10 win over Ole Miss, and a tough 41-37 loss at Georgia.

Plus, in a year when Kentucky has slipped to 107th nationally in run defense after games with Florida (362 rushing yards) and Alabama (204 yards), the normally pass-happy Spurrier has established a renewed emphasis on running the football.

But then, this decade at least, it doesn't seem to matter much what South Carolina does with the football. It still manages to beat Kentucky.

If Kentucky is truly going to improve its grid station in the SEC, that's the streak the Cats have to break.