When he walked into his first team meeting in 1994, Brad Scott, the newly appointed South Carolina coach, was greeted by sagging midriffs and flagging morale. Disgusted, he threw out his scripted "Hi, I'm Brad" speech and zeroed in on a group of corpulent characters sitting in front of him. "You're a bunch of fat, sloppy offensive linemen," Scott said. "We can't win with a bunch of fat boys."
The O-line got the hint. By the start of the season it had lost an average of 20 pounds per man. The rest of the team, too, fell in line, improving from its 4-7 finish in 1993 to 7-5 and winning the first postseason game in school history, a 24-21 defeat of West Virginia in the Carquest Bowl.
Success, though, carries with it a burden: great expectations, which until now have been little more than a Charles Dickens novel around Columbia. No more. "Things haven't gotten easier because we won a bowl," says quarterback Steve Taneyhill. "Things have gotten harder because expectations are higher."
Led by Taneyhill, the Gamecocks are likely to make a return trip to a bowl this season. After a miserable sophomore season in 1993, Taneyhill completed a school-record 62.9% of his passes last fall and cemented his status as South Carolina's top signal-caller. Taneyhill will be spelled for brief stretches by Anthony Wright, a nimble and strong-armed redshirt freshman who is the prototype quarterback for the no-huddle, fast-break scheme Scott helped install as an offensive assistant at Florida State. Both quarterbacks will be ably complemented by tailback Stanley Pritchett, a bruising 6'1", 230-pound converted fullback who gained 813 total yards and scored 10 touchdowns last year.
Despite bold talk among Gamecock fans of a run at the SEC East title, even Scott acknowledges that the team may be two years away from that big a leap. Last fall South Carolina ranked in the bottom half in nearly every defensive category, a potential scenario again this year. And lean recruiting years under Scott's predecessor, Sparky Woods, have left the team with little depth.
When Scott met with his team this spring, it was gut-check time again but in a different way. He simply wanted to make his players aware of the increased expectations. Scott also wanted to make certain that they had not gotten too fat on last year's success. They have not, he was assured. Fat, after all, is no longer the vogue in Columbia.