By Rixon Lane
There is no off-season in major college football.
Programs around the country are working around the clock to get a leg up on everyone else. There are recruits to sign, coaches to hire and facilities to upgrade.
With South Carolina currently experiencing its "golden age" on the gridiron, here's a look back at the 10 days that changed the course of the Gamecock football program.
November 23, 2004
Two days after South Carolina ended the 2004 season, and Lou Holtz's coaching career, with a loss and benches-clearing brawl against Clemson, the Gamecocks welcomed Steve Spurrier to Columbia. Spurrier hadn't coached in nearly a year, but his hiring made South Carolina the talk of the college football world.
February 7, 2007
The Gamecocks landed the most highly-touted recruiting class in program history. Ranked sixth in the country by Rivals.com, the class was headlined by five-star wide receiver Chris Culliver and nationally-ranked quarterback Stephen Garcia. Antonio Allen, Melvin Ingram, Cliff Matthews and Travian Robertson rounded out the class.
January 24, 2008
After Brian VanGorder left to become the defensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons, South Carolina had to scramble to fill the position for the second time in a month. Ellis Johnson was lured away from Arkansas and helped turn around the Gamecock defense. In 2011, South Carolina allowed just 18 points per game.
January 11, 2009
Craig Fitzgerald came to South Carolina from Harvard and immediately made an impact on the Gamecock football program. Using non-traditional methods in his strength and conditioning programs, Fitzgerald improved South Carolina's conditioning. The Gamecocks reached the conference championship and won 11 games in Fitzgerald's final two seasons.
February 5, 2009
South Carolina's 2009 recruiting class featured Stephon Gilmore, Mr. Football in the Palmetto State, and Alshon Jeffery, an in-state phenom who flipped from Southern Cal. The Gamecocks also landed DeMario Jefferey, D.J. Swearinger, Jimmy Legree and Justice Cunningham, all South Carolina natives.
January 3, 2010
The hiring of Shawn Elliott signaled a change for the Gamecock offense. The former Appalachian State coach brought a zone-read style and a fiery personality to Columbia, improving South Carolina on the field and on the recruiting trail. The Gamecocks ran for 154 yards per game in Elliott's first season, the highest ever in the Spurrier era at the time.
February 2, 2010
For the second season in a row, South Carolina landed the best football player in the state. Marcus Lattimore, regarded as the top high school back in America, chose to stay home and play for Steve Spurrier. Despite an injury-plauged career, the Duncan native would wind up scoring more touchdowns than anyone in Gamecock football history.
October 9, 2010
The Gamecocks had won big games under Steve Spurrier, but none were as big as this. The Gamecocks knocked off the defending national champions by 14 points and showed that South Carolina was a team to be reckoned with in the SEC.
February 14, 2011
The consensus No. 1 high school prospect in the country, Jadeveon Clowney could have gone to play college football anywhere in America. Instead he became the third consecutive South Carolina Mr. Football to sign with the Gamecocks.
October 8, 2011
Steve Spurrier gave sophomore Connor Shaw his second career start, and the Georgia native never looked back. Shaw would go on to win more games than any Gamecock quarterback ever, leading South Carolina to three consecutive 11-win seasons.
January 2, 2012
When Ellis Johnson took over as the head coach at Southern Miss, South Carolina handed the reins of the defense to Lorenzo Ward. In his coordinating debut for the Gamecocks, Ward's defense held Nebraska to 13 points to cap off the first 11-win campaign in school history.